Encouraging Critical Thinking Using the Case Study Method and Cooperative Learning Techniques Robert W. Grossman Kalamazoo College
Several workshops presented at the 1991 Lilly Conference on College Teaching* provided theinspiration for redesigning an introductory psychology course. This article shows how cooperative learning teams can be taught to analyze case studies. Further, by using alternative conceptual frameworks to analyze these cases, students are encouraged to think more critically about all the theories presented in the course. This approach should be applicable to a variety of other courses. One ofthe major influences on my pedagogy early in my teaching career was Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956), which helped me understand my goals as a teacher. I would not feel successful unless my students were able to show that they understood the course concepts by using them in a different context from the one in which they were presented. Bloom called this “application” learning (p.120). It wasn't long, however, before I realized that it was very hard for most students to perform at the application level. Although I was committed to application learning, no more than 10% to 20% of my students were achieving this level of learning, and I was unable to increase the percentage throughout many years of teaching. I found this frustrating, even though students rated my courseshighly. Recently, I have seen a significant increase in the percentage of students able to demonstrate application learning in my introductory psychology course. The advance was due, in part, to workshops I attended at the 1991 Lilly Conference on College Teaching that led me to redesign the course. The theories and techniques I used came mainly from three workshops: Craig Nelson on critical thinking(my major focus), William Welty on the case study method, and Barbara Millis on *The 11th Annual Lilly Conference on College Teaching was held at Miami University, November 15-17, 1991. 7
Journal on Excellence in College Teaching
cooperative learning. The following ideas should be applicable to a variety of courses. Fostering Basic Critical Thinking The introductory psychology courseat Kalamazoo College, like most such courses, presents to students the four main theoretical perspectives of traditional psychology: psychoanalytic, humanistic, behaviorist, and cognitive. Most introductory psychology courses use some combination of lecture and discussion. This particular course met in lecture sessions (60 to 100 students) three times a week and smaller discussion groups (20students) twice a week. The first theoretical framework that helped me better understand my students was the Perry scheme of moral and intellectual development (1970). Perry's research indicated that most entering college students use modes of thinking that inhibit their ability to grasp complex ideas and make it almost impossible for them to think critically about the ideas they are learning. InNelson's workshop, he suggested that the Perry scheme outlines a series of thinking levels through which students must progress before they can understand modern science well enough to think critically about it. Each successive level requires students to deal with greater uncertainty. According to Nelson, we cannot teach students how to deal effectively with uncertainty if their worldviews do not allowfor it. Typical entering college students have a dualistic worldview, the first level of Perry's scheme, through which everything is seen in black-white, either-or” and true-false dichotomies, and nothing is uncertain. To achieve critical thinking and deep understanding of modern scientific theories, students must progress from the dualistic position, through the multiplistic mode (in which all...