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Teaching and Evaluating Critical Thinking in an Environmental Context

by Trina D. Hofreiter, Martha C. Monroe, Taylor V. Stein
Applied Environmental Education & Communication ()


As environmental education strives to create an informed citizenry capable of addressing complex problems, critical thinking is an integral part of this effort. This research guides environmental educators in defining, teaching, and evaluating critical thinking by summarizing a pilot study with an undergraduate forest issues course designed to increase critical thinking skills in students and move them toward responsible environmental citizenship. The course taught critical thinking skills explicitly, correlating each discussion and assignment to the specific critical thinking skills addressed. An essay-based assessment of critical thinking skill, a Likert-scale assessment of critical thinking disposition and qualitative interviews measured critical thinking in students. After the 15-week course, students significantly improved in critical thinking skills (n = 16, p < .05) and skills were correlated with critical thinking dispositions (n = 13, p < .05). Phenomenological analysis of interviews revealed that students engaged in critical thinking in a variety of situations, some with citizenship implications, and struggled with the role of emotion in critical thinking. These experiences informed recommendations for instruction and evaluation strategies.

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