Really looking forward to presenting next week at the Kaleidoscope Annual Graduate Student Research Conference at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. I am experimenting with writing my talk as a speech rather than a presentation which is something quite new compared to my experiences at practitioner conferences. Mainly, I am doing it to constrain the amount I am likely to waffle on over my 20 minutes!
This is the abstract (which also summarises where I am with my research so far):
Critical thinking for what? An exploration of undergraduate students’ experiences of thinking at university
Critical thinking is closely aligned with the ‘higher’ in higher education. It is both a core element of graduateness and a cornerstone of the mission of higher education institutions. Yet Evans (2004) argues that higher education has shifted from a world where critical thought was valued to a world where universities are expected to fulfil the roles of the marketplace, leading to the ‘death’ of critical thinking. This doctoral research explores the ways in which undergraduate students define, experience and demonstrate critical thinking. It will reflect on whether their individual starting points at university and social characteristics (such as social class, gender, race and culture) affect their engagement with critical thinking. This research will use mixed qualitative research methods (longitudinal interviews, emails, observation and a reflexive diary) to study two cohorts of first-year students at the University of Sussex - a professional and an academic social-science course. A feminist critical realist theoretical framework will inform the research design. In particular, Archer’s (2000) concept of the internal conversation will inform discussion of how critical thinking can be theorised as both a personal and social act and the impact of students’ personal motivations on their critical thinking. Ahmed’s (2010) concept of feminist killjoys and the affective implications of becoming critical will also be used to consider whether critical thinking is at odds with our (gendered) desires for sociability and the extent to which critical thinking is an emotional, as well as an intellectual act. The intended outcome of the research is to socially contextualise what it means to be a ‘critical’ student as well as consider whether critical thinking remains a value of a 21st century higher education. In this paper, I will reflect on my research journey so far, focusing in particular on the illuminating role of theory in formulating my research.