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The difficulties of conceptualising and operationalising critical thinking through assessment practices: a case study of academics in a UK business school

D'NORTHWOOD, GAVIN (2021) The difficulties of conceptualising and operationalising critical thinking through assessment practices: a case study of academics in a UK business school. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Critical thinking defines a university education. If universities are nurturing critical thinkers then this should be apparent from and demonstrated through assessment. This is challenging, however, because critical thinking is subject to wide interpretation, with little or no academic consensus as to its specification. Additionally, assessment in higher education has long been a challenging issue, particularly so for complex higher-order thinking. Research continues to demonstrate considerable variability across assessors and the literature affords many reasons for this, but hitherto unexplored is the potential role played by differing conceptualisations of critical thinking as applied to the task of assessing students’ work. In response, this thesis examines how participants - academics in a UK university business school - conceive of critical thinking in application to assessing undergraduate dissertations.

A case study methodology is employed, with a qualitative approach to data collection (via semi-structured interviews involving document elicitation) and thematic analysis, underpinned by social constructionism. The findings illustrate the perceived facets of an undergraduate student as critical thinker, and identify how individualised approaches to assessment differ, questioning the effectiveness of mitigating institutional mechanisms. This thesis adds to our theoretical understanding of critical thinking in higher education, in demonstrating that participants conceptualise critical thinking as a set of skills, dispositions and originality, and in proposing a link between models of epistemological development and academics’ assessment related expectations of students’ critical thinking. Further practical contributions are offered through demonstrating what participants look for as evidence of students’ critical thinking and how this can influence assessment, together with the challenges to achieving consistency and averting grade variation. These could be of use to institutions, academics and students, subject to considerations of transferability.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Education
Keywords:Critical thinking; assessment; higher education
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Education, School of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:05 Dec 2021 13:18

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