Incredi-Bull Critical Thinking (IBCT) is a university-wide initiative designed to enhance students’ critical thinking skills for USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).
In November 2014, university leadership consulted with faculty, staff, students and community partners to analyze student learning assessment data. Critical thinking emerged as having the greatest potential to support USF Sarasota-Manatee campus’s mission to prepare students to become “successful leaders and responsible citizens.”
One of the faculty consulted was Michael Gillespie, PhD, associate professor of psychology, who joined USF Sarasota-Manatee campus in 2011. Critical thinking was the focus of Gillespie’s doctoral dissertation, and it helped him develop, measure and evaluate Bowling Green State University’s own program.
When USF Sarasota-Manatee campus selected critical thinking as its QEP topic for reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Gillespie became the program’s director. Students were involved in developing the QEP’s name, logo and the plan itself.
“One of the most important things we learn in higher education – or education in general – is how to think. So, focusing on critical thinking is of fundamental importance to me,” Gillespie said. “There are so many excellent examples of critical thinking gone right – and wrong – in the media, politics, etcetera. I enjoy helping to equip our students with the skills, dispositions and resources needed to carefully evaluate the constant stimuli they are bombarded with on a daily basis, and make informed decisions in their personal and work lives.”
The IBCT model is built on The Foundation of Critical Thinking, a guide developed by Richard Paul and Linda Elder. IBCT is interdisciplinary, cutting across colleges and majors, which increases the transfer of learning into novel contexts such as employment and graduate school. By providing opportunities to synthesize multidisciplinary backgrounds, the model facilitates creativity and drives innovation. The solid theoretical basis strengthens IBCT’s applied value and provides a foundation for future research.
Student outcomes and learning are primarily assessed by two methods: a rubric developed to measure outcomes across a variety of courses; and the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Assessment, the standardized assessment commonly used by employers.
“There is a strong research basis for the selection of our critical thinking topic, the model we selected and assessments,” Gillespie said. “It is of the utmost importance in higher education, with the ability to solve problems and make decisions being the most valued quality by employers – often more valued than an applicant’s major.”
Faculty collaborate with academic program peers to support students’ development of critical thinking skills through experiences and assignments from freshman level through capstone projects.
Now in its third year, IBCT has surpassed initial goals with more than 30 courses taught by nearly two dozen faculty, mini-grants to instructors and marked improvement of students’ critical thinking.
“We’ve shattered operational targets, showing that our faculty are excited about the program and are rising to meet student demand for critical thinking skills and certification,” Gillespie said.
Future goals for IBCT include extending certification to students at other USF campuses and expanding to community businesses.