Developing critical thinking skills within an academically and culturally diverse student population. Case study from The Business Environment (BUS1001)

Louise Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Business, FBL, UoN

Statement of the problem

Diversity and Inclusion are at the core of the University of Northampton’s values, but are Lecturers providing a satisfactory level of education to all our student population? Students arrive at the University of Northampton with a plethora of qualifications, abilities, cultural and social constructs. It is the job of our lecturers to ensure that each student is supported with the opportunity to reach their full potential as individual learners. The question that is often posed is ‘how?’. The diversity of some student cohorts leads to issues regarding engagement in face to face activities, attainments for specific minority groups and confidence and esteem issues for some groups. Conversely the stronger students in terms of prior academic achievement can feel frustrated and in need of deeper more extended learning opportunities.

The context

This case study focuses on a level 4 Business module which embraces a diverse cohort culturally, linguistically and in terms of prior academic achievements and ability. It explores the success of an intervention designed to support the development of critical thinking skills across all students in the module. For this case study one group within the module experienced the intervention. This enabled comparisons to be drawn from another group following the same subject based learning objectives without the intervention.

The Business Environment (BUS1001) is a compulsory module on programmes which include BA Business Studies, International Business, HND Business and Joint Honours Business. The student population includes low entry UCAS tariff students on the Foundation Programme, through to higher performing A Level Students. It represents a mixed ability population in terms of academic attainment. Some students will not have studied business before as a subject, and many have entered via a non-exam based BTEC route (there is exam based assessment on this module currently). Finally, there is a culturally diverse population with a higher than average BAME population. Research demonstrates that BAME student attainment levels are typically lower than for white students across all disciplines (Woodfield 2014), although the gap is less for Business and Management subjects.

There are 190 face-to-face students on the Business Environment module in Academic year 18/19, and 4 tutors. Within the student body is a small cohort of Chinese students, a small number of European students with a leaning towards northern and eastern Europe, around 30% black African students and finally a majority percentage of white students. Within this is a small cohort of mature students. There is a need to provide a high quality and learning experience relevant to a range of student personas in terms of ability, confidence, culture and existing educational experiences, as well as to maintain a good level of consistency across the teaching team. This is a challenge.

The Business Environment is a thought provoking module exploring current themes such as technological development, sustainability and climate change and political risk. Students learn, with guidance to identify, select and justify the use of relevant information to apply such themes to business contexts. The development of critical thinking skills will help to support the learning for all students on the module by enabling deeper coherent discussion of themes that are often complex by nature through logical reasoning (Brookfield, 1987) and would help improve the attainment of lower ability or performing groups by supporting the articulation of identified cases in making value judgements (Moon, 2004).

Alongside the context of the module is the articulation of recent scholars towards the importance of critical thinking in Higher Education which has been, in the view of Belleara et al (2016), reduced in importance in curriculums when compared to other academic and employability skills. Belleara et al (2016) writes of the growing demand for critical thinking skills in employment and the lack of critical thinking in graduates globally (reportedly 6%). This case study explores the challenge of delivering an individually focused, but consistent learning experience within a diverse teaching population when supporting the learning and development of subject comprehension critical thinking skills considering Blooms taxonomy and the COGS toolkit (University of Northampton, 2018) in the learning outcomes.

Student attainment, ability, culture and background

Student attainment and how to ensure that each individual learner achieves their potential is at the heart of learning and teaching for practitioners in higher education. Over the last 20 years there has been step changes in the profile of the ‘average’ student to the extent that there is arguably no ‘typical student’. This can be attributed to factors including the opening of international markets in higher education, leading to an influx of predominantly Chinese and other Asian nationalities (as well as some Europeans) within the UK system (Walker, 2013). Further natural migration from African countries has led to an increase in home students of African (in particular) origin.

Alongside the increase in diversity of cultural and ethnic origins the UK government has encouraged accessibility into higher education to students who traditionally may not have been awarded university places, based on their academic performance or additional learning needs. The widening participation initiative is demonstrative of this with the 2018 annual report from the DfE reporting increased numbers of students’ achievement in higher education within lower social economic groups (Department for Education, 2018). Finally, the increase in minority groups is shown by an almost 50% increase if BAME students in UK higher education between 2007-2016 (Universities UK, 2018).

Statistically this has opened the market to a broader audience of mixed cultural, social and national backgrounds, as well as a broader range of academic attainment upon entry. Research demonstrates lower performance overall in BAME when compared to white British middle classes, (Universities UK, 2018).

Whilst an all-inclusive environment and a ‘can do’ attitude for all at Higher Education may be desirable in upskilling a generation there are challenges within the curriculum to ensure that education for all really does mean that. The combination of a diverse multi-cultural, multi-language and mixed ability student cohort requires a good level of resources, skills and techniques to support all students’ development and with a limited time spent with each student within a cohort this can be problematic.

Student learning philosophy

To begin to address the complexity of consistent and valuable education to large diverse cohorts it is useful to understand how learning philosophies and approaches may differ within different student groups. Through attempting to ‘understand your audience’ it is reasonable to propose that the preparation and delivery of learning and teaching can be sympathetic to that understanding thus delivering a quality experience?

Biggs (1987) discusses the notion of surface, deep and achieving learning which informs Alauddin & Ashman’s (2014) examination of research philosophy and attitude towards learning. Biggs and Tang (2011) state the need to reduce the gap between surface and deep learners, whereby the surface learner is non-academic and requires strong support and guidance. Deep learners are explained as ‘academic’ and therefore likely to be higher achievers. Achievement learning is also explained as strategic where students learn to assessment outcomes.

By combining Biggs’ LPQ questionnaire and Study process questionnaire to ascertain the learning approaches above with their own developments Aluaddin & Asham (2014) identify that different student groups by background can have trends within their learning approaches. For example, non-English speaking (NESB) students had a stronger propensity towards deep learning, however in business based subjects, NESB students learnt towards an attitude of expediency showing traits of achieving/ strategic learners. Female students with higher grade averages or for whom English was not their first language (NESB) had the strongest leaning towards deep learning compared to other groups. Whilst the study was limited due to the NESB students being primarily Chinese or from other Asian countries it was an insight towards how gender and culture can affect an individual’s attitude towards learning.

When combined with results from Griffith & Rask’s (2014) study this is potentially something that can be used to an instructor’s advantage. Griffith & Rask (2014) examine peer influences. Although their work is examining peers from a room sharing perspective the results are potentially translatable to a class setting. Placing low and high achievers in close proximity demonstrated a positive influence on lower ability students as they imitate the work ethic and practice of higher achieving students. The influences of mixed ability students’, it was found, was overall positive. Higher achieving students were a positive influence on their lower ability peers almost by ‘leading by example’ in that study skills and working habits were observed, imitated and learnt by the lower ability students in the study. If ethnic groups, gender and nationality shows differing trends in their learning philosophy and approach it could therefore be argues that to combine groups where the trend leans towards deep thinking with those surface learners may help uplift the surface learners’ performance and reduce the need for strong ongoing guidance. This has the additional potential benefit of enabling the lecturer to facilitate discussions and developments wit all learners rather than those whose need is greatest.

Mixed peer groups set for study tasks, in terms of ability and attitude may, therefore create an overall positive learning environment and a ‘can do’ environment for learning. With such a stage set, it is possible that an intervention such as that shown in a study by Belleara et al (2016) could help students in a diverse mixed ability environment to learn critical thinking skills – particularly subject comprehension critical thinking. This study educated students from a range of Universities at all levels of the league table on how to think critically in the context of Psychology as their subject. Notably the results showed that when compared to the control group of students the intervention had its strongest effect and success in the middle two quartiles of the University league table. The students at the University of Northampton are extremely diverse in ability, background and attitude, and in terms of ranking the University is historically within those middle quartiles of UK ranking tables. It is potentially interesting, therefore to examine how an intervention in educating critical thinking, combined with strategic grouping of students to create learning sets for the intervention may affect the strength of the results of teaching critical thinking as a skill.

Critical thinking

Before introducing such an intervention, it is useful to have definitional clarity of critical thinking and the level of critical thinking so that appropriate learning outcomes may be considered to support student development of critical thinking skills overall. Davies & Barnett (2015) denote that a single definition of critical thinking is problematic and discuss three perspectives including the philosophical, educational, and social view. The educational view is explained as providing reasoning, objectivity and argument development to make value judgements. This aligns with the philosophical stance that logical cognition is part of the process of critical thinking and Magolda (1992) follows this with the notion that there is a spectrum of student skills development throughout the Higher Education stages. This case study acknowledges the educational view of the use of reasoning, argument development and objectivity to achieve critical thinking skills and accepts the notion of staged development and logic. The social perspective relates to the greater societal benefit of higher level thinking and therefore is deemed irrelevant for a single specific intervention for a small group of learners as demonstrated in the case study.

In reviewing the literature, it is apparent that Magolda’s (1992) view of critical thinking as a development process has been acknowledged with many frameworks and taxonomies guiding interested readers through the stages of acquiring critical thinking skills. Magolda (1992) states there are levels of ‘knowing’ moving from absolute knowing (information imparted by a source – teacher – is absolute and not questioned), towards contextual knowing  (where deep inquiry and critical thinking is demonstrated) with transitional and independent knowing in between, prior to this Wales & Nardi (1984) offer a taxonomy which simply begins with lower level thinking, (comparable to absolute knowing), to thinking skills whereby learners begin to question and compare different sources and medium, to complex thinking and finally thinking about thinking. It is useful to observe such stages in the development of critical thinking skills for level 4 students, particularly when mapping the staged process of critical thinking to Blooms taxonomy and COGs (University of Northampton 2017) to develop effective and achievable learning outcomes. At level 4 and for this case study visibility of transitional and independent knowing, (Magolda 1992) is sought, or thinking skills as shown by Wales & Nardi (1984). Such a foundation can then be built upon at levels 5 and 6 according to the taxonomies of knowledge seeking to reach complex thinking and contextual knowing.

Teaching critical thinking

Belleara et al (2016) argue that the development of critical thinking skills begins with subject knowledge and context, and that the intervention of specific techniques can support early stage critical thinking skills appropriate to students. The notion that subject comprehension is used as a tool to apply critical thinking to, is logical, however it is acknowledged that there is a risk that general critical thinking skills are not acquired due to the subject context acting as a vortex in which skills are obtained.

This case study employs some of the ideas used by Belleara et al (2016) to examine how a diverse, mixed ability student cohort responds to the techniques described in terms of their learning development.

There are two main issues to consider in the development of the case study.

1. Why do minority and lower ability students continue to underperform?

The literature will examine in detail the issues around student retention and attainment as well as some interventions that demonstrate a level of success in improving these areas for minority student groups and lower ability students.

2. Critical thinking skills development

The literature also examines the demise of teaching in Critical thinking skills, the importance of developing critical thinking, and some examples of interventions that have shown a level of success in diverse student cohorts with regards to developing the skills required for critical thinking. It has been observed that subject comprehension critical thinking, and general critical thinking skills are separate skill sets (Burke et al 2014).

Whilst the two approaches to teaching critical thinking are debated in terms of their validity, studies show that academic ability affects the development of critical thinking skills through taught methods such as problem-based learning (Lyle 1958). The intervention used by Belleara et al (2016) taught critical thinking within the context of subject knowledge in which, according to Lyle (1958) there is a higher probability of success.

Belleara et al (2016) provide material to Psychology students in advance of a facilitated session where the intervention involved guided higher order questioning.

The intervention used in this case study adopts the following from the literature and more specifically is loosely based on the work of Belleara et al (2016).

  • Information is provided in advance of the workshop which aligns with the intervention of Belleara et al (2016), as does resource and guidance of higher level questioning as a tool/ technique to demonstrate explicitly to students what critical thinking ‘looks like’.
  • Small groups are formed with mixed ethnicity, in line with the notion that there are trends in learning philosophies based on ethnicity and cultural backgrounds (Alaudin & Asham 2014). The objective is to form groups of mixed philosophical approaches and ability to encourage positive work habits (Griffith & Rask 2014).
  • Learning outcomes are developed using Blooms taxonomy and COGS, (University of Northampton, 2017) to ensure both the subject comprehension, and critical thinking development is at the correct level for the stage of study.

The intervention

The session chosen for the intervention focussed on the concept of cyber security and business risk. It is a topic that I understand well from my research and commercial background. This gave me confidence to use the topic with a new teaching approach. Following the literature regarding critical thinking and techniques to teach it was identified that the more able students will naturally possess a level of general critical thinking skills (Belleara et al, 2016). These students will have the opportunity to contextualise what is to critically review written articles in an explicit manner. The intervention intended to show that students of lower academic ability will benefit from the intervention as a demonstration that critical thinking is a skill that is achievable and that they can be confident in developing. By randomly mixing the groups it was anticipated that there would be a natural mixed of academic ability and learning philosophy within each group. The session plan (1.5 hours) was as follows:

Time Activity Rationale
20 minutes Prior to the session Pre-session reading. 2 articles on the Yahoo Data Breach of 2018 plus one providing business advice on cyber security To enable students to have a level of familiarity with the material prior to the workshop (Belleara et al 2016).
10 minutes

Introduction to the topic area (Cyber Security) highlighting its importance to businesses in terms of cost and reputation. Careers in cyber security as a growth area of employability (especially for women to be shared along with salary details) Delivered by tutor.

Students asked to interact by volunteering examples they are aware of.

To generate a level of interest in the topic area – not just as an area that may come up in the exam but to highlight its relevance in business today and the career options in the field commercially for business graduates.
5 minutes

Introducing critical thinking as a skill with the provision of ‘real life’ examples to help contextualise what it is to think critically.

Demonstrate the ‘Who, what, where, when why how resource for supporting development of critical thinking.

To explicitly acknowledge critical thinking as a core part of the session and highlight its importance both academically and for employment.

To demonstrate that critical thinking does not need to be a complex academic skill that is unobtainable.

5 minutes

Share Learning objective – therefore by the end of the session you will……

Introduce activity:

Students to work in 3 groups across 3 tables roughly evenly split. Using the two Yahoo data breach articles students are asked to critically review the case from the following perspectives. Mixed ethnicity and ability groups are to be identified to maximise the positivity of adopting learning behaviours of higher ability students (Griffith & Rask 2014).

Group 1 – Yahoo

Group 2 – the public

Group 3 – a victim of the breach whose data had been compromised.

All groups to examine the validity of the sources provided through: fact checking, trust in source reliability (and why it is or isn’t a trusted source), and the use of emotive language that may suggest bias.

Resource: Access to the ‘Ultimate cheat sheet for critical thinking’ to help students to question the articles and situation in a critical manner (Appendix 1)

By sharing the learning objectives students will have a clear understanding of the purpose of the session. The inclusion of a learning outcome for an academic skill heightens the focus on that skill.

The activity seeks to naturally show a level of critical thinking through the examination of different perspectives of the same case, using the same material.

A critique of the sources themselves is likely to be new to students at this stage of study. Looking at source validity at a basic level will help students to develop an inquiring mind.

The resource provided is visually interesting using colour and imagery. It is easily read and comprehensible through its structured layout using Who, what, where, when, why and how. Students can use this one-page document as a guide to encourage discussion of the articles in a critical way.

The methods proposed are extracted from Moon (2004).

25 minutes Small group discussion to take place following the above instruction. Note takers for each group to minute the key points of discussion. Lecturer to facilitate discussions through key questioning and by helping students underpin their discussion with critical thinking using the resource sheet, (Appendix 1) This time allows students to be actively engaged with the material and to apply their learning in a practical way. It allows the lecturer to have close contact with individuals within their small group setting to seek engagement across all learners.
10 minutes

The 3 smaller groups to come together and discuss the topic threads of each of the differing perspectives – initially through a group spokesperson disseminating the main points covered, then across the whole class to broaden out the discussion and further question each of the 3 perspectives covered.

The discussion to be facilitated by the lecturer with signposting of critical questioning throughout whether from the lecturer or a student.

This exercise invokes confidence in the elected spokesperson(s) for each group and provides the basis for a broader conversation that examines the 3 perspectives separately initially and then their relationship with one another. For example, the shock of the breach to the public will be of concern to the business due to reputational damage. The victims compromised data is of concern to the company due to the potential use of the data that is out of their control.
10 minutes Examination of the validity of sources – cross checking key facts of the story across the sources for anomalies (e.g. 1 states 2013 one states 2014 as the date of the initial breach). Bias in emotive language. Knowledge of the author and the source – one is mainstream media one is trade press. A top-level examination of sources will support student learning in critiquing what they choose to read, use and trust as good sources for their knowledge development. It will (hopefully) make them question their choices and deter from quick google searches as a way of seeking information.
10 minutes

Summary of group discussion and key points of subject content highlighting the use of the application of critical thinking in a conscious way – main point to highlight is the importance of prevention of breaches following the critique of the negative consequences for all which leads into the final thoughts.

All students to contribute in brief with a single point and example of critical thinking they have used.

A learning check to enable the lecturer to identify students that have adopted the questioning technique of critical thinking and absorbed the main concerns of businesses of cyber security.
10 minutes

Final thoughts…. Demonstrate the links on the 3rd source that students were to review in preparation which offers business advice on how to manage cyber risk. Examine in closer detail the fact there is a government qualification (Cyber Essentials) and British Standard (BS31111) which supports businesses in developing protection.

Highlight the need for reducing vulnerability in the infrastructure through both IT Systems and the training and development of people using technology.

This veers slightly into the internal environment of the business which is why less time is allocated as the module examines the external environment. It closes the topic neatly however by providing students with brief examples of considerations of business in the address to cyber threat.

It rounds off the critical thinking element of the discussion where the key point is that prevention is better than the cure by showing means in which companies can seek prevention.






































































LO1: To understand and explain why cyber security is important to businesses

LO2: To be able to apply critical thinking to information reported regarding cyber security from a range of perspectives

LO3: To be able to explain techniques to examine the validity of sources.

The use of words including explain, and understand are aligned to the learning outcome expectations for level 4 students as identified in the COGS framework (University of Northampton, 2017).

Rationale for intervention

The work of Belleara et al 2016) demonstrated that the provision of clear guided deep-thinking, higher order questioning helped mixed ability groups perform well in subject comprehension based critical thinking when compared to those that did not have similar guidance. The resource sheet used in the intervention for this case study helps to guide learners towards that level of questioning whilst acknowledging the very early stage of undergraduate study that the students are currently in, (appendix one).

The objective of providing material prior to the session is that more time can be allocated to the facilitation of critical thinking development. In doing so students can feel more confident and this should increase focus on the tasks within the session. Students were offered a guided route of questioning through facilitation and the resource sheet (Appendix 1). In the study by Belleara et al (2016) the intervention was over a longer time span. With the allocated timeframe for this intervention the simplicity of the one-page cheat sheet was deemed more appropriate to teach as a tool for use that could be applied in other study tasks later.

The selection of the resource was initially based on the familiarity that many if not all students would have received the ‘Who, what, where, when why and how’ lines of questioning. This familiarity it was expected would instil a level of confidence and a can-do attitude in the application of critical thinking to the task. Eales- Reynolds (2015) cited in Grove (2015) states that students of minority ethnic groups lack the confidence in what they can achieve and the use of strong academic language such as critical thinking could therefore be a deterrent towards engagement in tasks due to this lack of confidence. The use of a simple framework with a range of deeper thinking, higher order questions aligned to it was designed to reduce the barrier that academic terminology can potentially create towards engagement.

Combined, the familiarity of the material and the familiarity of the overarching questions in the critical thinking resource sheet is designed to enable all student levels, and abilities to engage with the task, under the guidance of the lecturer.

Reflection of the intervention

Overall the session was well received by students and encouraged a good level of discussion of the subject within the structure set out in the session plan. From observing the interactions of the group, it was evident that some students grasped the way to use the critical thinking resource quickly, whereas others needed further explanation and there was some confusion. This highlighted the point made that surface learners require stronger guidance and support (Biggs 1987). I provided additional support once the small group discussion began for those that required it with positivity and enthusiasm. This was confirmed in the feedback of the peer observation of the intervention.

The students were on task for most of the session particularly once those that required additional support had received it. It was noted in the peer observation that the introduction to the session and task requirements could have been more explicit with the use of a range of basic examples showing the process of application. This is valid as it may help those that struggled to apply the resource sheet initially to have a clearer receipt of the requirements. It is likely that those students who struggled are the lower ability/ lower confidence students, however within the remit of the intervention and its timeframe it was not possible to gauge prior educational attainment at an individual level – only to recognise that this is mixed.

The level of confidence in applying the task when seeking trends based on ethnicity was inconclusive. This group is predominantly BME although precise ethnicity is not known at an individual level. The white British students appeared to grasp the requirements quickly overall which was evidenced by those students (male and female) taking the lead in conversations and engaging quickly. Confidence levels in ‘having a go’ were visibly higher. Two female students of Asian origin engaged in the small group working but not in the main group discussion which was noted by the observer as a point to try to draw out the views of every student. This would be useful as a learning check to ensure that all students had achieved, at least in part the learning objectives through observing responses and ideas in the discussion more closely. One BME female student took the lead of Group 3 and encouraged a confident discussion which was on task and she showed a high level of interest in deep learning with the insights, discussion and questioning. This encouraged responses and interactivity with the rest of the group which demonstrated notion of higher ability students uplifting those around them (Griffith and Rask 2014). Most students within the group were of an African origin and the confidence shown was varied as would be expected in any group. It is difficult therefore to place lower confidence and ethnicity together in this case as there were high levels of confidence shown that at least matched those of white students. It could be said that those of Asian origin had lower confidence levels, at least within this workshop group, however, as there were only 3 students of Asian origin in the room it could not be said conclusively that this is the case generally, due to the low representative sample.

The two articles and the critical thinking resource sheet prompted discussions in a broader context both within the small group session and as a large group. As facilitator I encouraged the development of broader points, such as ethics of use of data, reputational damage and brand damage limitation, vulnerabilities of technology and the role of people in ensuring those vulnerabilities are addressed. The students appeared to enjoy the opportunity to explore the wider picture and by drawing upon the questions on the sheet this began to develop organically by the end of the small group session. At this stage it felt like students were engaged with subject comprehension but hadn’t engaged fully with the application of critical thinking techniques. Peer observation provided the same view, that it was later in the session students were able to see the connection between their discussions, the resource sheet as a guiding tool and the lower level critical thinking skills that they were applying to the task.

When the students came together as one whole again some of the broader topics discussed in small groups were shared across the room with a further deepening of the comprehension and critique of each. As facilitator I highlighted the critical thinking aspect of how they had begun by reading the articles and through deeper thinking questioning they had developed their ability to analytical review and critique the content matter of the articles as well as the broader topics that were interconnected. The peer observer commented that the conversation flowed naturally and smoothly as I made connections in the student’s ideas and critical thinking. For example, it was noted that one student suggested bias in the BBC, to which I asked the group collectively ‘How do we assess bias?’.

The core points of the discussion were mapped onto the whiteboard and for each discussion area critical observations and points were highlighted as such verbally.

Following discussion of the content of the articles we reviewed the validity of the sources. It was noted by the observer that as the session progressed it became clearer how the discussions linked to the resource sheet and critical thinking. This was an approach that I took deliberately as I wanted to demonstrate to students by the end of the session that they were ‘doing’ critical thinking all throughout the session to reduce the ‘fear factor’ of something deemed to be strongly academic, this building confidence. Those links were seen through discussion of emotive language and credibility of sources, according to the observer which aligns with Moons (2004) techniques for teaching critical thinking.

One of the challenges of the intervention was to explicitly confirm which students had achieved the learning objectives. This was mostly due to time and would be something I would seek to embed at the end of the session more effectively in practice as standard. I plan to do a similar intervention soon on another topic and to do a personal learning check in the form of written prose to measure this more effectively. In the session the learning check was through questioning and observations. I am confident that most, if not all students could explain critical thinking and apply it to varying degrees to specific material.

In terms of identification of learning approaches/ ability and ethnicity it was difficult to gauge any trends within a single group setting. More that observations showed that BAME students appeared to have mixed philosophies, approaches and attitudes to learning except for Asian students who lacked the confidence to speak out within the group which made it difficult to know the extent to which they had met the learning outcomes of the session, within the session.

Overall the session was enjoyable according to the observer and student responses, and it provided a set of questioning tools as a technique to support all the students’ critical thinking skills. Improvements can and will be made in running similar sessions going forward to ensure the learning checks are more explicit, as well as the activity instructions at the start. A final point from the observer was the value of my knowledge of the content which according to the post observation notes and discussion was valued by the students in terms of having confidence in my ability to deliver the session and speak with authority on the subject.


The intervention showed a strong level of success in terms of the level of engagement and interest in the task. Whilst some explaining was necessary, the use of one-page sheet/ single screen view meant that students had access to a tool to help them to learn a new technique (subject comprehension critical thinking). The application of higher order questioning led to a more detailed and in-depth consideration of the subject matter than that which has been observed in past sessions. By the end of the session I felt that all students had made progress.

Next time I attempt such an intervention I would use more visual aids and explicit examples at the start of the session to improve the understanding of lower ability students when explaining the purpose of the session and the task requirements. I would also cap off the session with a learning check, perhaps through a short on-screen quiz in which all students are expected to participate. This would relate back to the learning objectives and confirm that they have been met.

I am looking forward to attempting another similar session with the same group to identify their progress in terms of overall skills development in critical thinking and if the opportunity arose I would see strong value in doing a more in-depth study than just a single class intervention.

The importance of critical thinking skills development has been discussed in the literature. A longitudinal approach as an intervention with the same students throughout their undergraduate studies would help to observe how the critical thinking process can develop with conscious delivery of tools and techniques to enable this. It would also facilitate the opportunity to observe trends amongst ethnicities and ability levels (subject to the provision of additional data such as UCAS points).

Engaging in the case study research has led to a broader interest in BAME student attainment and retention. This is an area that has received growing attention in the media and Higher Education publications recently, and an increasing body of knowledge is being developed to understand how best to support diverse cohorts. I plan to continue working with BAME attainment within the Faculty and have recently attended a conference to learn more.


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Appendix 1

Resource Sheet used within the workshop available online at:

Appendix 2 Peer observation notes

These notes were supported with a meeting following the intervention whereby further discussion took place relating more directly to the learning outcomes of the intervention and the student responses to Critical Thinking.

Observed session: BUS1001, 12 students. Friday, the 18th of January 2019, 1.30 to 3.00 pm, SN107

Overall, I have enjoyed attending this session where I saw good interaction with and among the students. The topic you covered (cybersecurity) and the skills you presented (critical thinking) seemed to allow students the chance to interact and be exposed to some deeper thinking.

  • The teaching approach demonstrated flexibility and positivity (for example, by tailoring some parts to cater to those who had not read the assigned articles before coming to class).
  • Students were on task almost all the time. Perhaps, some instructions could have benefited from a clearer, more explicit approach (for example, by telling students exactly how you expected them to ‘apply’ the who, how, why, etc. the first time when you introduced it)
  • Examples used in class were relevant (for example, fitness apps, Yahoo data breach, and other recent events).
  • The way you divided the group into three (some to consider the issue from Yahoo’s viewpoint, others from the public’s and the third from the victims’) allowed the students (somehow implicitly) the opportunity to develop some awareness of the multi-faceted nature of many issues. It also gave you the good opportunity to tailor your teaching to each group’s needs, questions and comments.
  • You were responsive to the students’ needs of having the Critical Thinking sheet more accessible, by availing it on their NILE site.
  • Students’ engagement increased when they started working in groups. It could have been also a good idea if some engagement had been encouraged earlier (for example, when introducing the theme: students could be given the task of thinking in groups about what came to mind when hearing the terms cybersecurity, data protection, right to privacy, hacking, etc.)
  • The white board was used effectively to capture the ideas elicited from students.
  • Of students’ engagement, some students did not seem to participate orally at all. While they may have shared some ideas in their groups, it may be a good idea to encourage each one of them to speak in front of the rest of the class, when possible.
  • The design of the session was interesting, and the links between critical thinking in general and the topic in particular (cybersecurity) became clearer towards the end.
  • It was not entirely clear how to use the Who/What/Why? etc. to assess the validity of the articles. It was good to brainstorm and think of the topic, but the focus on establishing the suitability of the article was not clear. Later on, better links were clearer (for example, linking emotive language to credibility).
  • All the discussions were natural and smooth. For example, when a student commented on the ‘bias’ of BBC, you asked, ‘how do we assess bias?’ and when a comment was made about the possibility of ethical hacking you asked whether anyone ‘would like to counter that’. This allowed students to express their opinions (even the controversial ones) and led into a deeper discussion. You were also sensitive to the opportunities to introduce relevant concepts and took advantage of such turning points in the discussion.
  • You encouraged students to develop their own original thinking and the possibility of extending the discussion beyond the classroom. For example, commenting on one point, you told a student, ‘that can be your homework; find out!’
  • It was very good to share your contribution to BS31111, and some students were impressed. It is always good that students feel there are some ‘real-life’ stories that their lecturers are bringing to the classroom.
  • Perhaps it is my personal preferences, but I usually tend to think of some visuals to accompany the ideas I use or ask students to discuss. For example, when dividing them into three groups, I may choose to have three cards/A3 sheets with ‘Yahoo, The Public, The Victims’, and they can perhaps write down some of their notes on each sheet. This may give them the opportunity to work together (instead of in twos, for example), and it can keep them focussed. Also, it could be a good idea to point exactly where the articles are (by showing them the links on the screen, if possible).
  • Your session recapping was very good. You captured all the main points covered in the session and brought it to a natural close, highlighting the key issues.