Author: Sanjay Goel, http://in.linkedin.com/in/sgoel
The quality of any inquiry depends upon the critical thinking ability of the researcher/investigator. Critical thinking is essential for understanding of complex and fuzzy situations as well as good and apt decision making. It is crucial for engineering professionals who have to investigate and solve complex problems, identify and develop best practices, document and defend findings, make decisions even under the conditions of unreliable and even misleading information, criticise assumptions and inference, face ethical and sustainability questions, and also provide consultancy on multi-faceted complex problems. It has been identified as an important ‘competency driver-habits of mind’ in the three-tier taxonomy of twelve competencies for software development education .
It is unfortunate that science and engineering courses often do not give sufficient importance to developing critical thinking ability in their students. A curriculum that puts an overemphasis on training on established theories, processes, and best practices inhibits the development of critical thinking . Often engineering subjects give the impression that there is always a right answer and that the ‘facts’ will resolve disputes. They concentrate on mathematical analysis rather than critical analysis .
In 2000, Minger  proposed a framework for critical thinking. Analysts and researchers in all disciplines can use this framework for defining and evolving the scope of their inquiry. The four levels of this framework are as follows:
i. Critique of rhetoric: argument analysis by checking for logical fallacy, soundness, and validity.
ii. Critique of tradition: critical attitude towards actions in organizations, cultures, traditions, and assumptions that underpin these beliefs.
iii. Critique of authority: being skeptical of one dominant view.
iv. Critique of objectivity: being skeptical of information and knowledge, recognition that information and knowledge is never value free, and are continuously reshaped by the structures of power within a situation. Implies the meta-cognitive process in critical thinking.
Teaching Critical Thinking
The undergraduate curriculum of liberal arts colleges in USA emphasizes critical thinking. Some western universities offer courses in critical thinking to their engineering students as well. Such a practice is not common in India. Last year, I was very happy to learn from Prof. Pankaj Jalote that at IIIT Delhi, they have started offering a course on critical thinking to their undergraduate students. For the last many years, IIIT Hyderabad has been conducting a workshop, ‘Jeevan Vidya,’ for all their fresh undergraduate students. In a very interesting way, this workshop makes a very laudable effort to initiate the participants into critical thinking about issues encompassing Minger’s all four levels.
At JIIT, I had included some lectures on critical thinking as part of some interdisciplinary elective courses, i.e., ‘Research Methodology,’ ‘Human Aspects of Information Technology,’ and ‘Software Arteology’ that were offered to different batches of final year undergraduate computing students during 2005-2010. In addition, some other instructional innovations/interventions  have also been carried out to nurture students’ habit of inquiry learning.
In my view, all institutes need to incorporate critical thinking and methods of inquiry in their curriculum in their own way. In my future articles, I intend to write more about it.
I invite the learned readers to share the information and views about the following issues:
1. How different institutes incorporate critical thinking in their curriculum and pedagogy? What is the impact of these attempts? What are the difficulties?
2. What do faculty members in different disciplines do to incorporate critical thinking in their own courses? What is the impact of these attempts? What are the difficulties?
In order to put a deliberate emphasis on critical thinking in the framework of pedagogical engagements, I have used Minger’s four levels to define four sublevels of ‘critique’ activity at ‘evaluate’ level for revising the Bloom’s taxonomy with respect to the special needs of software development education .
Critical Thinking and courses on Research Methodology:
In India, because of UGC’s directive, the courses on ‘Research Methodology’ have recently become common for the doctoral programs with many universities. Social sciences have had a strong tradition of such courses for master’s and doctoral students. It was pleasant surprise to see inclusive of a chapter on Research methods in the NCERT book on Sociology for school students of 11th class . However, wrt to most other disciplines, this has not been a very common practice even for doctoral students. Therefore, there is insufficient understanding and agreement about the desirable content and pedagogy of such courses especially in the context of engineering discipline. Surprisingly, in private conversations, many professors of maths, natural sciences, and engineering often disapprove the necessity of such courses.
In my view, a good discussion on theories, models, frameworks, and techniques of critical thinking must be an integral part of the courses on ‘Research Methodology.’ In order to make discussion on critical thinking meaningful, this content should preferrably be contextualised with respect to the core discipline of the target students. This is a challenging task that need to be addressed by the teachers of ‘Research Methodology.’ Attempts to offer common course on ‘Research Methodology’ or ‘Critical Thinking’ for many disciplines need to be carefully reviewed.
 Luís Moniz Pereira & Ludwig Krippahl, On Teaching Critical Thinking to Engineering Students
 Jennifer Moon, Critical thinking: an exploration of theory and practice, Routledge, pp 49-51, 2007.