Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Immersion in multiple paradigms as a way of teaching critical and creative thinking in the sciences (#193)

Tomas Zahora 1
  1. Hargrave-Andrew Library Monash University, Clayton, VIC, Australia

Within the context of the prevailing paradigm, students in the sciences are well-trained critical thinkers. Lectures and teaching materials, as well as assessments and skills development frameworks, focus on developing and measuring their ability to approach problems and seek solutions. While creativity and creative thinking are encouraged, skills enabling them are not easy to identify, and even less susceptible to teaching. With the emphasis placed on domain-specific knowledge and goal-oriented critical thinking, when faced with unforseen situations students find it easier to rely on existing patterns without recognising that a truly creative solution may need to be sought outside the paradigm.

This paper outlines an approach to teaching creative thinking based on recognising and breaking down established patterns of thought through immersion in unfamiliar paradigms. The approach guides students along four facets of critical and creative thinking: (1) the limitations of critical thinking during paradigmatic change, (2) the recognition of ingrained habits of trained thought, (3) the potential and limitations of mnemonic pattern-making, and (4) the ability to break patterns through lateral thinking. The main aim of this approach is to enable students to identify the limitations of their critical analysis and explore ways of transcending them.

The paper draws on experience of teaching creative thinking to science students at Monash University. Its theoretical framework builds on the work of Thomas S. Kuhn and K. Anders Ericsson, and refines the distinction between convergent and divergent thinking (J. P. Guilford) and vertical and lateral thinking (Edward de Bono).

Navigating uncertainty and complexity: The paper addresses the challenge of succeeding in a world of rapidly changing assumptions and paradigms. While recognizing the importance of critical thinking, its approach uses elements of critical thought to determine the boundaries of a particular approach as well as of ingrained habits of though. Applying elements of lateral thinking, it aims to equip students with explicit tools to tackle not only difficult, but also thoroughly unfamiliar complex problems.

  1. Thomas S. Kuhn, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" (Chicago, 2012).
  2. K. Anders Ericsson, "Toward a General Theory of Expertise" (Cambridge, 1991).