First Year Inquiry Program to Assess Critical and Creative Thinking

  • By Richard W. Slatta, Director, First Year Inquiry Program
  • Since its inception more than a decade ago, the First Year Inquiry (FYI) program has focused on student critical thinking skills. With a proven record of improving this key area of cognition in first-year students, we will undertake a pilot program to assess both critical & creative thinking. During the fall 2012 semester, six FYI instructors will pilot a revised critical/creative thiking assessment procedure, a step that will help move us toward the focus of the university's Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) mandated for 2014. If the pilots are successful, we will revise and broaden future program objectives & assessments accordingly.
  • Revised pilot program goal: to improve student critical and creative thinking skills. We define critical thinking as moving beyond opinion or unsupported speculation to reach a reasoned judgment, grounded in evidence appropriate to the discipline. Students should analyze evidence, explain causality, and reason logically. We define creative thinking as constructing meaningful new connections by generating original and varied explanations to disciplinary problems or questions. Creative thinking activities (verbs) include interpret, invent, discover, imagine, suppose, or hypothesize. Success in college and beyond requires a synergy between these two types of thinking. All major intellectual and business projects involve their interplay, so first-year students offer an ideal audience to foster these essential, foundational skills.
  • The synergy between creative & critical thinking: Creative thinking involves searching for meaningful new connections by generating many unusual, original, and varied possibilities, as well as details that expand or enrich possibilities. Critical thinking, on the other hand, involves examining possibilities carefully, fairly, and constructively focusing your thoughts and actions by organizing and analyzing possibilities, refining and developing the most promising possibilities, ranking or prioritizing options, and choosing certain options.
  • " Generating many possibilities is not enough by itself to help you solve a problem. Similarly, if you rely on focusing alone, you may have too few possibilities from which to choose. Effective problem solvers must think both creatively and critically, generating options and focusing their thinking.

    " Both generating and focusing involve learning and applying certain guidelines (attitudes and habits of mind that support effective thinking) and tools.
  • Another take: Critical Thinking vs Creative Thinking

    " Creative Thinking - generative, nonjudgmental, expansive--generating new ideas.

    " Critical Thinking - analytical, judgmental, selective--making choices among alternatives.
  • Think of the thinking process as a kayak with 2 paddles. One paddle represents creative thinking; the other critical thinking. If you only use one paddle (i.e., creative thinking), you'll end up going in circles. To move the kayak forward, you've got to alternate between paddles.