Critical Thinking: Gary Stephens

Gary Stephens
College of Arts and Sciences

One way I introduce and reinforce the idea of critical thinking in the freshman Speech Communication course is by redundancy of a basic theory in the first three classes.  

What is the nature of human communication is discussed in the first chapter of the text which is assigned on class day one.  The complexity of that issue is approached via models, axioms and principles in the written text.  So in class two there is discussion of this, a quiz, and then the class is broken up into teams each of which builds a physical model of communication (from trash and scrap materials, string, wire, cardboard, they were asked to bring to class).  After they have completed the model, each team gives a short explanatory speech on how their model  demonstrates the nature of speech communication as it happens in life. 

Then, for class three, we apparently move on to “multicultural” communicating.  But at some point in class three, I return to the model of communication.  I give out cases which I have created.  In each of these cases in the workplace, school, family or relationships, there seems to be a communication problem.  I ask each team to analyze the case applying the model of communication they have developed.  They can pass the exam, build the model, but most freshmen seem to have real problems applying their knowledge of how communication works or doesn’t work to analyzing a real-life situation.  They analyze, present their findings, and suggest a solution and present this to the class and see how the class evaluates their solution. 

This basic skill, and core course learning outcome, “to critique or analyze a human communication event using a contemporary model of the communication” is thus introduced in three different ways resulting in lots of different models and understandings.  But the idea that it is a skill that one needs to learn to use in life is at least announced well.  Then different cases calling for use of this analytical skill (this applied critical thinking), pop up all through the course in the form of cases about  multicultural, on-line, and non-verbal communication.   

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