Using the case study teaching method to promote college students' critical thinking skills
Terry, David Richard
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The purpose of this study was to examine general and domain-specific critical thinking skills in college students, particularly ways in which these skills might be increased through the use of the case study method of teaching. General critical thinking skills were measured using the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WGCTA) Short Form, a forty-item paper-and-pencil test designed to measure important abilities involved in critical thinking, including inference, recognition of assumptions, deduction, interpretation, and evaluation of arguments. The ability to identify claims and support those claims with evidence is also an important aspect of critical thinking. I developed a new instrument, the Claim and Evidence Assessment Tool (CEAT), to measure these skills in a domain-specific manner. Forty undergraduate students in a general science course for non-science majors at a small two-year college in the northeastern United States experienced positive changes in general critical thinking according to results obtained using the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (WGCTA). In addition, the students showed cumulative improvement in their ability to identify claims and evidence, as measured by the Claim and Evidence Assessment Tool (CEAT). Mean score on the WGCTA improved from 22.15 ± 4.59 to 23.48 ± 4.24 (out of 40), and the mean CEAT score increased from 14.98 ± 3.28 to 16.20 ± 3.08 (out of 24). These increases were modest but statistically and educationally significant. No differences in claim and evidence identification were found between students who learned about specific biology topics using the case study method of instruction and those who were engaged in more traditional instruction, and the students' ability to identify claims and evidence and their factual knowledge showed little if any correlation. The results of this research were inconclusive regarding whether or not the case study teaching method promotes college students' general or domain-specific critical thinking skills, and future research addressing this issue should probably utilize larger sample sizes and a pretest-posttest randomized experimental design.