Critical Thinking in Higher Education STEM: A Qualitative Faculty Perspective

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Professional Studies in Instructional Design Leadership (DPS)

Committee Chair

Lewis Chongwony

Committee Member

Joel Gardner

Committee Member

Yi Yang


There is evidence on the agreement of educators, scholars, and employers concerning the importance of teaching critical thinking skills to undergraduate students (Brookfield, 2015; Gose, 2009; Lennon, 2014; Tsui, 2002). Asking Critical Thinking faculty and STEM faculty about their definition of critical thinking and their use of critical thinking tools may help shed light on newer and better ways to improve STEM education by incorporating more opportunities for developing and honing critical thinking in instructional design for these courses. The practical application of critical thinking pedagogy to STEM courses is warranted, hence the need for faculty development in this area. Other research has identified a paradox where science faculty are required to hold a terminal degree but are not required to have formal training in pedagogy to teach (Lynd-Balta, Erklenz-Watts, Freeman, & Westbay, 2006). One way to ensure the suggested faculty development courses are appropriate is to query faculty directly on this topic.This research used a qualitative research methodology. A critical thinking faculty focus group and STEM faculty interviews were conducted. Faculty participants in the focus group and interviews provided all of the data for this research as these faculty members are the closest to the situation. The data collected was recorded, transcribed, coded, and developed into emergent themes.The research took place at a University in Columbus, OH. The University is a private four-year or more university. Ninety-three percent of the faculty at the University are part-time not tenure track and the faculty to student ratio is thirteen students to one faculty member. The timeframe within which this research was completed spans across one trimester at that university. A total of six questions were asked of focus group members and personal interviewees.The research indicates that a simple and shared definition of critical thinking is needed. There was no clear definition of critical thinking to be found among STEM faculty or Critical Thinking faculty. This leads to a problem, as no clear definition led to no clear understanding of the concept. If there is no clear understanding of the concept, then consistency of curriculum can be questioned. STEM faculty looked to promoting critical thinking through discipline-specific methods while Critical Thinking faculty considered the promotion of critical thinking in a worldly view. This identified a separation that could be troublesome between general education courses and discipline-specific courses. A multidisciplinary approach to critical thinking would be more beneficial to both students and the University, as this would help with consistency of curriculum.Along with promoting critical thinking earlier in student programs, faculty development was considered a way to more effectively promote critical thinking by helping align faculty with tools and methods to incorporate more critical thinking in their courses. While STEM faculty are more than likely well trained in their specific disciplines, they could be lacking in educational pedagogy and critical thinking tools. Further research suggestions include gathering information for the creation of faculty development courses themselves for alignment purposes. Also, research could be completed after the courses are taken to look at the effectiveness of those courses and any resulting changes.