Developing teaching quality and accessibility of critical thinking in the curriculum using the Critical Thinking Skills Toolkits (CTST)

Wason, Hilary, Lindsay, Jane [Collaborator] and Arrigoni, Francesca [Collaborator]

Impact Summary

This case study discusses my leadership of an innovative curriculum approach to improve the quality and accessibility of critical thinking teaching in disciplinary curricula. I have collaboratively designed ten research informed Critical Thinking Skills Toolkits (Wason, 2016). which have impacted on over 3000 students and 200 staff at Kingston University and across the sector. These toolkits were originated during my faculty teaching role in 2016, and further developed through my work as co-investigator on the OFS project ‘Meeting Employer Demands for Higher Order Thinking Skills’. These transferrable toolkits are shared across the sector under Creative Commons Licence. The University of Bedfordshire uses the toolkits as part of a guided learning package to support 600 students from a variety of academic backgrounds. I have worked with Roehampton University to adapt the toolkit for their new nursing curriculum. Advance HE/QAA have incorporated the toolkits within their Guidelines for Education for Sustainable Development. I have supported the New Jersey Institute of Technology to embed the toolkit across their freshman business programmes for 500 students. This case study contributes to TEF metrics on teaching quality, the learning environment and graduate outcomes as well as the value employers place on graduates who think critically.

Key Achievements

  1. Paramedic science students have achieved 100% module pass rate as result of using the toolkit to improve their use of sources, references and interpretation of content.
  2. Supported the Course Director of International Business to use the Toolkit in her collaborative work with the Institute of Fundraising and make critical thinking the key USP of her course.
  3. Enhanced the profile of critical thinking teaching at Kingston University through national and international dissemination at conferences and publications detailed in my webprofile.
  4. Finalist at the Springer Nature Falling Walls Lab for Breaking the Wall of Critical Thinking Teaching in Higher Education, October, 2019
  5. Supported the embedding of the CT toolkit as part of the MPharm curriculum validation in 2018 which was commended by the General Pharmaceutical Society.
  6. Supported nursing staff to successfully use the toolkit as case studies in SFHEA applications, to generate publications to build their academic identities and use in their teaching.

Key Aims

The toolkits align with principles 1 and 3 of the inclusive curriculum framework, making critical thinking accessible within the curriculum and providing students with the skills they need to succeed in a global market. The toolkits operationalise Kingston University’s institutional adaptation of Facione's critical thinking skills framework (Facione, 1990) and are designed to develop a common language of critical thinking. The toolkits contain 14 branded teaching guides which are contextualised to each discipline. They provide a flexible framework to guide students on how to: find and assess information credibility; critically read; interpret and analyse a wide range of information; draw inferences and deductions; make and challenge assumptions; identify and interpret arguments; evaluate and explain findings. I recognised the need to enhance students’ oracy skills, criticality, and employability and to provide support for students and staff to adapt to a blended learning environment. I developed 4 new teaching tools which provide scaffolded resources for students to learn from asynchronous and synchronous lectures, skills and scenario based learning and employability sessions. These frameworks enable purposeful dialogue and a common language of critical thinking to be used in teaching, marking and feedback. This is enhancing instructional clarity and the classroom dynamic.


I have set up a variety of accessible ways for staff to embed critical thinking in their teaching. I have led the design of an asynchronous training package on the institution wide Support for Academic Staff Canvas Site which contains the toolkit resources. On the site staff can also access a scaffolded process to help them analyse where they need to enhance critical thinking in their curricula and the processes to use to embed this in teaching and assessment. Finally, the site provides an area for best practice case studies and for staff to engage in professional learning conversations about their practice, linking to the CriTALK community (reference Case 1). To support this, I have led a university wide CPD programme of face to face and online workshops, sharing practice sessions, departmental away day workshops and curriculum support workshops. These provide staff with the opportunity to contextualize the toolkits to their bespoke learning contexts. The workshops also provide staff with the chance to design teaching activities in a collaborative environment and consider the transferability of skills across modules at different levels of the student journey. Review documents are provided to record the use of tools and student progress.

Key Outcomes

I have led and provided strategic curriculum support to the international business course team to implement the toolkit over a three year period. 60% of the team now actively use it to enhance student outcomes and employability. Full implementation is planned by the end of this academic year. Using Healey, Flint and Harrington’s (2014) conceptual model of student engagement through partnership, I have mentored 6 students to act as co-developers and co-researchers within the team. They provide regular feedback about how to enhance the teaching and use of the toolkit. Students have reported a greater sense of belonging to a learning community, culminating in a heightened appreciation of their capacity to influence and enhance practice through collaboration. They have presented their toolkit experiences with academic staff at three academic conferences, developing key skills for both academic success as well as employability. They also regularly contribute to CritTALK (see Case 1). I have supported the nursing course team’s use of the toolkit over a three year period. Most recently, as part of the programme revalidation, I helped the team to embed the tools in every module, at every level. This has impacted on the learning of 1100 students. This process has also helped educators to embed an evidence based approach in the nursing curriculum and address the needs of their professional body. The development of Critically Listen has supported 400 level 4 students with a variety of prior learning experiences to make lecture content more accessible and understandable. The Year Lead has embedded the Toolkit in the Adult Nursing Succeed in Your Module Template linking it to the library and academic skills centres to enable students to make connections between critical thinking, information literacy and academic skills. The course team is now using the language of the toolkit in assignment feedback.

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