Addressing a perennial need
UW colleges address critical thinking skills
By Kris Leonhardt
STEVENS POINT/GREEN BAY – UW colleges are working to address a top skill requested by employers in 270 of Wisconsin’s industries, among 800 occupations – critical thinking.
A State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development report featuring long-term projections for 2018-2028 listed critical thinking, along with active listening, as the top skills associated with most new job opportunities.
This is something that universities such as UW-Stevens Point and UW-Green Bay are hearing from local employers are working to address, said UWSP Career Services Assistant Director Jacqui Guthrie.
“A couple of years ago UW-Stevens Point created a new general education requirement, making it so that all students had to take a class about critical thinking and analysis in order to graduate and that really is in response to what we hear from employers that complex problem solving, critical thinking, the dynamics of rhetoric and working through in a group complex problems is really key to them being successful,” she said.
“What I hear from employers is that they can train on the basic software that someone will use in a job that they can train on the business infrastructure, the tasks that they do in their work. But it is difficult to train on interpersonal dynamics, on communication effectiveness, on critical thinking and complex problem solving; that they need folks who can work in diverse environments who can communicate effectively, and all of those skills that are developed during an undergraduate education.
“It’s just hard for an employer in our region to train on all of that compared to some of their in-house job duties.”
“All students are required to take three credits in a course that satisfies the critical thinking learning outcome,” explained UWSP Critical Thinking Center Director Dona Warren. “That course can be offered in pretty much whatever discipline, as long as the instructors have been internally certified to teach such a course.
“We do expect our instructors who teach these courses to go through some workshops, just so they understand the critical thinking framework, that we use our definitions and talk a little bit about the skills and the best way to integrate those skills in their courses.”
The university defines critical thinking as “the process of identifying, analyzing, evaluating and constructing reasoning in deciding what conclusions to draw, or actions to take.”
UW-Green Bay’s general education program provides an “interdisciplinary, problem-focused educational experience that prepares students to think critically and address complex issues.” This includes developing skills that include communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, and quantitative and information literacy.
Taking it a step further, UWGB offers a Modern Workplace Skills Noncredit Certificate which includes a module gaining an understanding of situational analysis and problem-solving skills, in which students delve into the dynamics of decision-making and fine-tune their critical thinking skills.
Warren said that the need for this skill set is not new, but the approach to addressing it is for some colleges.
“Employers have been asking for this for a long time – the desire for critical thinking among employees,” she stated. “And critical thinking has been an important concept in educational circles at least since the 80s. So it’s not new. It is maybe new here, in what we are doing. We are meeting kind of a perennial need in an innovative way.”