Explicitly Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in a History Course

Abstract

Critical thinking skills are often assessed via student beliefs in non-scientific ways of thinking, (e.g, pseudoscience). Courses aimed at reducing such beliefs have been studied in the STEM fields with the most successful focusing on skeptical thinking. However, critical thinking is not unique to the sciences; it is crucial in the humanities and to historical thinking and analysis. We investigated the effects of a history course on epistemically unwarranted beliefs in two class sections. Beliefs were measured pre- and post-semester. Beliefs declined for history students compared to a control class and the effect was strongest for the honors section. This study provides evidence that a humanities education engenders critical thinking. Further, there may be individual differences in ability or preparedness in developing such skills, suggesting different foci for critical thinking coursework.

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Correspondence to Anne Collins McLaughlin.

Ethics declarations

This research was approved by the North Carolina State University IRB and informed consent was obtained from all participants.

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflict of interest regarding this project.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Pew test of science knowledge

All radioactivity is man-made. Is this statement true or false?

Correct Answer: False

Electrons are smaller than atoms. Is this statement true or false?

Correct Answer: True

Lasers work by focusing sound waves. Is this statement true or false?

Correct Answer: False

The continents on which we live have been moving their location for millions of years and will continue to move in the future. Is this statement true or false?

Correct Answer: True

Which one of the following types of solar radiation does sunscreen protect the skin from?

Correct Answer: Ultraviolet

x-rays

infrared

microwaves

Does nanotechnology deal with things that are extremely...

Correct Answer: small

large

cold

hot

Which gas makes up most of the Earth’s atmosphere?

Correct Answer: Nitrogen

Hydrogen

Carbon Dioxide

Oxygen

What is the main function of red blood cells?

Correct Answer: Carry oxygen to all parts of the body

Help the blood to clot

Fight disease in the body

Which of these is a major concern about the overuse of antibiotics?

Correct Answer: It can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria

People will become addicted to antibiotics

Antibiotics are very expensive

Which is an example of a chemical reaction?

Correct Answer: Nails rusting

Water boiling

Sugar dissolving

Which is the better way to determine whether a new drug is effective in treating a disease? If a scientist has a group of 1000 volunteers with the disease to study, should she...

Correct Answer: Give the drug to half of them but not to the other half, and compare how many in each group get better

Give the drug to all of them and see how many get better

What gas do most scientists believe causes temperatures in the atmosphere to rise?

Correct Answer: Carbon dioxide

Helium

Radon

Hydrogen

Which natural resource is extracted in a process known as “fracking”?

Correct Answer: Natural gas

Coal

Diamonds

Silicon

Appendix 2

Table 2 Belief measure with note of whether covered directly in the History courses

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McLaughlin, A.C., McGill, A.E. Explicitly Teaching Critical Thinking Skills in a History Course. Sci & Educ 26, 93–105 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-017-9878-2

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Keywords

  • Critical Thinking
  • Demand Characteristic
  • Belief Change
  • Critical Thinking Skill
  • Conspiracy Theory