Critical thinking is a term originating from the second part of the 20th century. It was defined by the National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking (1987) as “the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.”
We will write a custom Essay on Does Group Discussion Improve Critical Thinking Skills? specifically for you
301 certified writers online
At its core, it is the ability to clearly and rationally analyze the information we receive without allowing our biases, prejudices, and misinformation to inform our conclusions and opinions, and to be deliberate and conscious in our judgments. It allows people to distinguish important ideas in arguments, find links between them, find faults in arguments and, in turn, build efficient ones. Ultimately, it is a skill that is useful both for internal dialog, to analyze oneself, and external dialog a sell, to analyze information from around us (Paul & Elder, 2009).
However, it is important to understand that critical thinking is not necessarily an inherent part of human character. Most of the time people are deeply affected by our preconceptions and opinions about ourselves and the world around us. Like any other higher-level cognitive skill or talent, critical thinking requires a conscious effort on behalf of the thinker to achieve improvement. Since it is agreed upon as one of the fundamental skills in most industries, from business to science and art, a lot of thought was put into developing new ways to train people to develop critical thinking (Lau, n.d.).
And a divisive question among psychologists and educators is the use of group work and discussion as a means to develop critical thinking. On the one hand, group problem solving can promote interest and engagement, inspire people to engage with and question new ideas and data. By being faced with fully developed opposing views, they have a chance to gain new perspectives, learn to shape their opinions better, and grow as persons. Many researchers (e.g. Jones, 2014) of this topicc view collaborative discussions and effects of group dynamics as vital for developing critical thinking.
On the other hand, peer pressure and the “bandwagon effect” are phenomena well known to sociologists, psychologists, and educators, which are detrimental to the individual, and thus also critical, thought. If in a group a majority shares the same belief, it is very likely to be picked up by others, sometimes in spite of the evidence against said belief (Vitelli, 2015). People placed in a group suffering from a bandwagon effect or with a strong peer pressure factor are likely to avoid participating in the conversation, or even delegate to the opinions of others rather that develop their own.
This brings us to the question if group discussions improve critical thinking skills or not? Despite arguments against this statement, I believe that research and modern critical thinking development practices have sufficient evidence that collaborative discussions and interactions can successfully improve critical thinking skills.
To explain why this stance was chosen, it is important to consider both advantages and disadvantages of group discussions as a tool of teaching pedagogy, the inherent responsibility it places on the person conducting them, and their role in the development of the skill in question.
The effectiveness of group work in classrooms was studied by Fung (2013), who aimed to confirm whether student engagement in classrooms could be enhanced through quality group work and if it could be used to inspire positive effects on students’ critical thinking. While he used Hong Kong as the location of his study, his conclusions can be useful for the purpose of this argumentative essay.
His training workshops and teaching interventions showed that all students who participated in the group studies and discussions significantly enhanced their critical thinking ability over those who worked individually. After having worked in teacher-monitored groups, the students have shown themselves to become more inquisitive, analytical in the evaluation of received information, and more argumentative in their responses. They also showed a more creative approach to tests than students working alone.
Studies by other researchers further prove that cooperative work shows a higher level of thought; with participants becoming adjusted to participating in discussions and take the opportunity to learn new ideas faster. These qualities define them as critical thinkers. In particular, the doctorate study by Meredith Godad (2012), while focusing on the effect of technological environment on the development of critical thinking, also evaluated the effects of group work on the development of critical thinking among students. Not only did she confirm the results of previous researches, but she also noted that collaborative discussions reduced cognitive frustration and load, allowing students to focus on their cognition further.
These studies confirm that group activities, collaboration and discussions help in developing critical patterns of thinking. However, these examples were all tested in tightly controlled situations, with teachers or researchers directing most of the conversations, allowing for maximization of results. However, if such skilled assistance is not provided, this can cause the opposite effect to the desired.
Humans have a natural desire to fit into their social circle. It is a protective instinct which is meant to help us adjust to the society around us. If a person does not already have a solid individual critical thinking ability developed, when placed under pressure from their peers they might be willing to either abandon their opinions in favor of more popular ones, or accept a new one, based purely on the prevailing number of people supporting it (Hendra, 2013).
We can conclude that group activities indeed have a proven record of improving the critical thinking skills of people involved. But, on the other hand, such discussions often require an outside influence to deter clique formation and development of peer pressure. It is clear that with an equal, well-educated group, the members will only benefit from the interactions, and will be able to evaluate any given idea or situation much more efficiently and clearly and on their own, particularly if people with different opinions participate in the conversation. But in a more uneven group, dominated by dominated by several particularly charismatic individuals, even a correct idea can be overlooked, or even figuratively brought down, if it does not fit with the opinions of the leaders or the majority opinion.
Consequently, it is the responsibility of the teacher or tutor to create and regulate a healthy educational environment, where students are encouraged to put forward their opinions and actively participate in the discussion, even when voicing opinions that are not popular in the group. He should encourage discussion participants to evaluate their ideas and compare them against ideas of other speakers, find pros and cons both of different views spoken.
Get your first paper with 15% OFF
Fung, D. (2014). Promoting critical thinking through effective group work: A teaching intervention for Hong Kong primary school students. International Journal of Educational Research, 66, 45-62.
Godat, M. (2012). Collaborative Learning and Critical Thinking in Technology-enhanced Environments: An Instructional Design Framework (Unpublished doctoral thesis). Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Hendra, M. (2013). Peer Pressure Changes Perspective.
Jones, J. M. (2014). Discussion Group Effectiveness is Related to Critical Thinking through Interest and Engagement. Psychology Learning & Teaching Plat, 13(1), 12-23.
Lau, J. (n.d.). What is critical thinking?
Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2009). The miniature guide to critical thinking: Concepts and tools. Dillon Beach, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Vitelli, R. (2015). Riding the Bandwagon Effect.