Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum (CTAC)

Kosovar guyThe Critical thinking Across the Curriculum Program (C-TAC) is designed to help university instructors create more dynamic classrooms in which students are invited to think critically and engage actively in their own learning.

The modern university is squeezed between its traditional mission of providing detached and scholarly reflection on the world, and its obligation to prepare young people to navigate their way through a future whose uncertainties are its most discernible features. The imperative to reform teaching is felt at all levels. Distinguished universities are called to provide distinguished teaching as well as scholarship and research. While teaching without good scholarship is an empty exercise, sharing scholarship without empowering students to think productively within the disciplines falls short of what is expected from a higher education.

C-TAC trainers believe that

Active learning and critical thinking lead to usable knowledge.
As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1910/1957) wrote many years ago, and the psychologist Howard Gardner (1991) has demonstrated more recently, a distinction can be made among passively acquired knowledge (school knowledge), knowledge derived unreflectively from experience (intuitive knowledge), and scientifically validated concepts and thought processes that provide informed ways of understanding the world and solving problems (disciplinary knowledge and thinking). Disciplinary thinking is acquired by active means. Indeed, unless it is acquired, we are likely to do our day-to-day thinking with our intuitive knowledge (which is often flawed) and use our school knowledge to pass tests and impress strangers at social gatherings. Disciplinary knowledge and thinking--the kind of thinking that is used by scientists, literary critics, and social philosophers--is arguably a more fitting goal of higher education. We want our students not only to know the core concepts that have come down to us through the disciplines, but also to be able to practice the systematic and informed habits of thought that created those insights, and that will lead our students to create more knowledge, and solutions to problems, even problems their professors cannot foresee.

Active learning promotes habits of life-long learning.
An education that includes learning to learn does not start becoming out-dated upon graduation, but rather prepares students to keep up an intellectual conversation with the world that continues to help their minds to grow.

Active learning leads to tolerant and interdependent social behavior.
In truth, some of the most valuable lessons from university are social ones. As the name “university” implies, students in higher education should come to know not only unfamiliar ideas, but people who are unlike themselves. Classes that promote active learning and critical thinking are better places to get to know other students - not only to make friends, but to understand and be able to transcend differences.

Students are more engaged when active means of instruction are used.
Over the past ten years, the Harvard Assessment Seminars (Light, 2000) have investigated the question of what makes education effective in college. These things help:

  • clearly expressed expectations,
  • frequent writing assignments,
  • many projects rather than one paper or examination at the end,
  • interactive questions,
  • studying and working together,
  • relating the course work to the world outside of the classroom.