Ad Hoc General Education Committee

Critical Inquiry Seminars

Written By: Robert Wolff - Oct• 26•11

Posted for Mary Anne Nunn (Department of English)

[Both Plan C and Plan D proposals for the revision of General Education suggest that students take a Critical Inquiry Seminar. This post explains that concept in greater detail.]

The idea for the Critical Inquiry seminar arose as a result of discussing “Critical Thinking” as a General Education outcome. As a committee, our sense was that every course at the university level should require students to think critically, so rather than adopt it as an outcome, the committee conceived of a course for all students in their first semester at CCSU, both first year FTFT (first time, full time), and all transfer students that would introduce the process of thinking critically in a class designed to help students practice this skill preparatory for success in all their subsequent classes. The course could be taught by faculty in any discipline, and would have a specific focus that is either in the area of the faculty member’s discipline expertise, or focuses on a subject of keen personal interest to the faculty member. It is a course, like our current FYE courses, that is designed to have an enrollment small enough to promote acquaintance between faculty and students and among the students themselves. In addressing whatever subject is at the heart of the class, the faculty member will take the students through the process of critical inquiry—close observation, discernment of patterns, marshalling evidence, formulating conclusions, presenting those conclusions both orally and in writing, setting one’s own conclusions into the context of others’ thoughts on the subject. We imagine the possibility of a CI conference in each semester where students could present their work, making this shared experience a real opportunity to build community and foster appreciation for precisely the critical thinking that lies at the heart of the academy.

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  1. I’ll begin by stating that I am deeply in-favor of this sort of course, even though “critical thought” was sort of a household rule growing-up. I’m by no means a perfect thinker, and I’m always looking to upgrade both my hardware and software, so to speak. What I would emphasize is that there needs to be an element of flexibility to this sort of curriculum, allowing students who are at different levels to expand each other, rather than bore each other. Some students are more skilled with critical thinking when they enter CCSU, others can’t reason their way out of a paper bag… the same as with any other skill. It is especially important to keep this course flexible if it is going to be require for transfer students, as well. It should be intellectually stimulating to people who already have the proper hardware installed for University-level thought.

    As a transfer student, I have to ask… would sections be divided the way many courses are, so some sections are just for freshmen, while others would be just for transfers; would there be a certain number of seats in each class for transfers and a certain number for freshmen, or would there be open registration for all sections? I think a lot of CCSU students could benefit from interaction with students who have previously been to other schools.

  2. Robert Wolff says:

    Good question! In the committee’s discussions we have assumed that there would be separate sections for first-year students and transfers but we’re still thinking through the details. Thanks for your thoughts.

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