Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment
2016 2017


Mark Neff

Department of Environmental Science

Institutional Goals

Listed below are selected learning outcomes in the area of critical thinking that Western Washington University is actively integrating into its curriculum. Each learning outcome is listed with its definition, along with a description of how Mark Neff's teaching strategies meet each of these student learning outcome goals.

Critical Thinking

Source: Adapted from the California Academic Press's Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric (HCTSR)

Learning Outcomes Definition Course Outcomes
Identification Accurately identifies and interprets evidence. To identify what counts as evidence presupposes the broader context of a theoretical framework, and across campus different disciplines utilize a range of theoretical approaches. What counts as evidence to understand disease dynamics in a medically-oriented biology course, for example, is systematically different than what counts as evidence in a sociology course covering the same phenomena. Because I teach about the dynamics of real-world policy processes, I consider it crucial that students recognize that there is not an answer as to what evidence is, relevant to a given question.

I work to empower students with the skills to recognize what constitutes evidence within different theoretical contexts as well as to recognize that choosing a theoretical orientation is a power-laden act. We as a society, for example, privilege biological causes of disease forgetting that there are also ones that derive from inequality and other social causes. I work with my students to build these meta-analytical skills by reading—in parallel—arguments rooted in different disciplinary frameworks and examining as a class what types and sources of evidence each orientation values and what each fails to recognize.
Alternative Consideration Considers major alternative points of view. Considering alternative perspectives is the central act of critical thinking. In public policy, considering major points of view is not simply a matter of weighing the merits of one form of policy intervention versus another; rather, it requires understanding alternative points of view from the perspectives of the advocates of those positions. This requires that we take their perspectives seriously. If you want students to understand, for example, the root of American discomfort with government intervention to stem greenhouse gas emissions, we need them to understand the ambivalence of the American public toward a strong central government.

In class, we confront our divergent cultural orientations directly by first exploring relevant theory and then by reading and discussing writing stemming from divergent cultural orientations. It is occasionally disorienting to students to discover that people with whom they disagree are not simply under-informed.
Accurate Conclusions Draws warranted, judicious, non-fallacious conclusions. My courses do not deal with black-and-white issues about which there are true and false answers. Accuracy in this context means representing factual issues correctly as well as giving sincere and fair depictions of various actors’ perspectives in policy disputes. This requires reading deeply into the ideas of opposing parties.
Justification Justifies key results and procedures, and explains assumptions and reasons. Students practice justifying their positions throughout the course. We keep each other honest by continually asking for justifications and explanations.



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