Student Success - Thinking Critically In Class and Online

SPC's definition of critical thinking

Given the variety of definitions in the literature, an important step in preparing the plan to improve students’ critical thinking skills was to develop a consensus among the SPC faculty on what constituted critical thinking. SPC began by defining critical thinking

CRITICAL THINKING is the active and systematic process of

both individually and in community to

This definition emphasizes the importance of critical thinking on an individual level as well as in community. The definition recognizes intellectual traits of critical thinkers. It also charges students to foster understanding and engage in sound decision-making to address the College’s mission of fostering critical thinking. These skills will serve as tools for students in an ever-changing marketplace and world.

How students can use SPC's definition of critical thinking

Whether delving into assigned readings or confronting realistic problems, it helps to systematically review the different elements of critical thinking. SPC's faculty champions have developed criteria of what good critical thinking looks like as part of the Assessment Rubric for Critical Thinking (ARC). Take your students through a similar example in your own course.

Performance Element

Exemplary Critical Thinking



Define the problem in your own words.

Identify the main idea or problem with numerous supporting details and examples which are organized logically and coherently

  • Literature: The author's message is ...
  • Science: The question we were trying to answer was ...
  • Humanities:  There are numerous examples of this influence in art of the era ...


Compare & contrast the available solutions.

Use specific inductive or deductive reasoning to make inferences regarding premises; address implications and consequences; identify facts and relevant information correctly

  • Science:  I observed the following happen when I conducted the experiment ... as a result, I conclude that ...
  • Political science: The consequences of applying that candidate's solution could be ...

Problem Solving

Select & defend your solution.

Thoroughly identify and address key aspects of the problem and insightfully use facts and relevant evidence from analysis to support and defend potentially valid solutions

  • Health:  All the symptoms point to ...
  • Business management.  After brainstorming a number of solutions, a cost/benefit analysis indicates that this solution ...


Identify any weaknesses in your solution.

Insightfully interpret data or information; identify obvious as well as hidden assumptions, establish credibility of sources on points other than authority alone, avoid fallacies in reasoning; distinguish appropriate arguments from extraneous elements; provide sufficient logical support

  • Political science: The author's bias is coloring his views on the topic in the following ways ...
  • Education:  The grades and behavior of this student over this period of time indicate that ...


Suggest ways to improve/strengthen your solution.

Insightfully relate concepts and ideas from multiple sources; use new information to enhance final solution; recognize missing information; correctly identify potential effects of new information.

  • Economics.  The jobless rate has changed; therefore we might expect ...
  • Crime scene analysis.  This new evidence changes our previous determination ...


Reflect on your own thought process.

“What did you learn from this process?”

“What would you do differently next time to improve?”

Identify strengths and weaknesses in your own thinking: recognize personal assumptions, values and perspectives, compare your own thinking to others’, and evaluate your thinking in the context of alternate points of view

  • Weaknesses: I raced through the assignment and didn't notice ...
  • Strengths:  I was pleased that I thought of all the reasons for ...
  • Alternate points of view:  Other group members disagreed with me; as a result, I think I should modify my view ...

Building skills through classroom activities

Students should be reminded that they are building critical thinking skills every time they:

if, and only if, they engage with the assignments seriously

Online critical thinking (affecting face-to-face classes as well)

While thinking critically in online classes involves all of the elements of of the critical thinking definition, there are a couple of areas for which critical thinking becomes especially important:

Advice from the Foundation for Critical Thinking

The Foundation for Critical Thinking has several pages that may prove helpful to college students.

Online tutorials that can help students develop logical arguments