Training Students for Critical Thinking

Dear Colleagues: Having worked backwards from my classroom experiences in Pharmacy Therapeutics (PY2), I have slowly resolved that our students are not very good critical thinkers. What I mean by that from class observation is that they are not able to make decisions and explain how they make the ones they do make. I have been consulting with my colleagues about this and also engaged our main campus academic administration and other senior faculty. Many of our COP faculty agree with the general notion.

I have been initially exploring the literature on critical thinking (and a website of Critical Thinking Institute) and then applied back to what I perceive are areas for improvement. We give students lots of content but not a structure for process. Our students, when presented with patient cases, are not able to process the information, determine what is relevant, and pose for themselves what question(s) are being asked of them and to then go through a problem resolution mechanism. As one website described, they are not able to ask themselves “What is the essential question?”.
The fundamental critical thinking process training we may have assumed from pre-pharmacy training. Then we expect them to take it up another notch by applying this critical thinking discipline to the pharmacy discipline with greater accountability during academic progression. We do problem-based learning and this is usually where we are asking them to model our (faculty) thinking processes. However the foundations are not present to give the students tools they need at the front end. So, many are not prepared this way. I think some of the liberal arts college students may have a better training here than UK students at baseline.

Although educational development is not a strength of mine, or in terms of background, I am quite intrigued by this critical thinking paradigm, and would like to engage in development of this in a new COP curriculum. I will be learning more about this and seek additional guidance from experts in the field. I would like to be able to, on the short term, present some of the principles about critical thinking so that I can work with other COP faculty to insert something for all students depending on year in program. I wish to use it in my own teaching. Then, as we evolve a new curriculum, I wish to work with our faculty to engage the basic training in critical thinking and then add to our problem-based learning techniques already in place. It is my sense that we need a front-end and back-end to what we are currently doing.

I would like to adopt these ideas and test-drive them in my next teaching cycles. I think there is a real opportunity here to further distinguish the UK COP instruction and training and scholarship. I look forward to feedback from those with similar interests, needs and desire to develop methods to enhance our students training.
Dan Wermeling, Pharm.D.
Associate Professor
UK College of Pharmacy