Interdisciplinary Perceptions: Academic Acculturation and a Pathway to Improved Critical Thinking

Interdisciplinary Perceptions: Academic Acculturation and a Pathway to Improved Critical Thinking

Donna M. Velliaris (Eynesbury Institute of Business and Technology, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8411-9.ch014
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This chapter explicates a small-scale action research study that utilised qualitative survey data derived from academic lecturers at the Eynesbury Institute of Business and Technology (EIBT) into their perceptions of ‘critical thinking'. EIBT offers pre-university pathways in the form of diploma programs identical to the first-year of a Bachelor of Business, Information Technology, or Engineering at the partner institution. Interest was in the potential consistencies/inconsistencies in understanding(s) of critical thinking among academics and the ways in which they have/are incorporating related pedagogical activit(ies) into the delivery of pathway courses to an exclusively international and non-native English speaking student population. The findings reveal that EIBT academic staff share similar definitions and insights in relation to critical thinking and are implementing many and varied techniques to enable successful acculturation of EIBT students to Western academic practices prior to them transitioning to either The University of Adelaide or the University of South Australia.
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Today’s Higher Education (HE) environment is dynamic and complex, and to promote student learning in the long-term, there is evidence that academic skills need to be ‘enduring’. ‘Critical thinking’ is one such enduring skill (Terenzini, Springer, Pascarella, & Nora, 1995) and a key learning outcome of most, if not all [Australian] HE institutions. Informative material students learn during their HE studies may have a relatively short shelf-life after graduation. Even if content material is not entirely forgotten, it may soon become out-dated in relation to occupational/professional fields. Albrecht and Sack (2000) emphasised the importance of skill development during [accounting] programs and stated that ‘students forget what they memorise... Content knowledge becomes dated and is often not transferable… On the other hand, critical skills rarely become obsolete and are usually transferable’ (p. 55).

For students to reach their potential in today’s society, they must learn to think and reason critically, which has been called one of the most important attributes for success in the 21st Century (Huitt, 1998). Paul (2002) contended that ‘in a world of accelerating change, intensifying complexity and increasing interdependence, critical thinking is now a requirement for economic and social survival’. Ongoing debate within HE research, however, pertains to whether students can ‘learn’ to think critically on their own or whether they need to be formally ‘taught’ this skill (Choy & Cheah, 2009). It is generally agreed that the ability to think critically is an imperative to success and research has indicated the strong need for improving critical thinking skills since many students fail to utilise sophisticated reasoning even at the HE level (Halpern, 1996; 1999; Kuhn, 1999). Learning to think critically, to analyse and synthesise information, to solve economic, political, scientific, social, and technical problems, and to work productively in groups as examples, are crucial skills for successful and fulfilling participation in a modern society (Grabinger & Dunlap, 1995, p. 5).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Problem-Solving: The process involved in finding a solution to a problem. Humans use not only trial and error, but also insight based on an understanding of principles, and inductive/deductive reasoning, although abilit(ies) and style(s) may vary considerably by individual.

Pathway Provider: Educational institutions that offer students alternative forms of entry into university programs. Applicants may include: early school leavers; those who have not achieved the academic and/or English requirements to obtain direct entry; or students looking to return to study after a period of absence.

Acculturation: In its simplest sense, this includes the changes that arise following contact between/among individuals from a different cultural background. This may lead to progressive adoption of elements of the other culture (e.g., ideas, words, values and/or behaviours).

EIBT: The Eynesbury Institute of Business and Technology offers full fee-paying pre-university pathways for predominantly international students entering one of two South Australian higher education institutions ( The University of Adelaide or The University of South Australia ).

Critical Thinking: Construed broadly, critical thinking comprises the mental processes, strategies and representations people use to solve problems, make decisions, and learn new concepts; reasonable, reflective, responsible, and skilful thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do. Related dispositions can be seen as attitudes or habits of mind that include open and fair-mindedness, inquisitiveness, flexibility, a propensity to seek reason, a desire to be well-informed, and a respect for and willingness to consider diverse viewpoints.

International Students: Within the context of this chapter, they are individuals enrolled in EIBT on Australian temporary student visas and who are exclusively from a Non-English Speaking Background (NESB).

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