Examining Different Learners’ Development of Critical Learning Skills: University Education Development Fund

Dr Lana Liu, Newcastle University Business School and Dr Mei Lin, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences.

Critical thinking is one of the core skills for academic success but can be one of the biggest challenges for students studying one-year taught masters programmes. 

Dr Lana Liu, Newcastle University Business School and Dr Mei Lin, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences set out to explore how critical thinking can be enhanced in their most recent project, funded by the University Education Development Fund: 

Examining Different Learners’ Development of Critical Learning Skills in Postgraduate Taught Programmes: A Comparative Study in MSc AccountingFinance and Strategic Investment and in MA Applied Linguistics and TESOL 

This collaborative project is well underway with surveys and first round of interviews with postgraduate taught students nearly completed and evaluation of the transcripts about to begin. We caught up with Lana and Mei to find out more: 

What motivated you to begin your project? 

We teach on Masters courses in quite different subject areas. Over the years we both identified common challenges in terms of lack of critical thinking our students were demonstrating when they started their course.  This may arise from our expectation, as we were assuming a high level of critical thinking skills because of our set entry criteria to masters programmes. However it became clear that not all students were working at the same level. This was evident from in class discussions, the questions students were asking and in some cases we directly asked students about their understanding of critical thinking at both the start and end of their course.  This has led both of us to investigate underlying issues.  

The aims of our project are to identify critical moments in students’ learning journeys and pedagogical strategies focusing on knowledge application and critical evaluations, and therein to enhance critical thinking (CT) in curriculum design. 

How did your project develop? 

We had previously worked together in 2007 on a University Transition project focussing on separate aspects of student transitions. This is when we first started to focus on critical thinking, which has gradually engrossed in our minds over the years. 

Initially, we applied to the University Education Development Fund as a Strategic Project requesting finding for the full project but were only awarded funding for a responsive project, I.e. to undertake the literature review.  

With hindsight the funding for the responsive project was really beneficial. The fund allowed us to recruit a student who conducted a thorough review of critical thinking literature.  We presented the outcomes of this review in a poster at the Learning and Teaching Conference 2019. This review indicated some key concepts regarding international students’ critical thinking. Following this, we applied for strategic funding again, referencing the results of our responsive project and this time was successful. 

What will you use the funding for? 

 We have recruited one doctoral student intern to support with survey and interviews. Being able to recruit the doctoral student is really important to the success of the project.  

What outcomes are you expecting from your project?

There are some key questions we want to explore as part of the project: 

  • What do students understand about critical thinking? 
  • What is missing? 
  • How can we support students to meet expectations and become critical thinkers as outlined in the Graduate Framework?  

We anticipate having some results to share in January 2021 and are aiming to share the outcomes at the Learning and Teaching Conference that year. Our project focuses on two different subject areas and while there are things that might be specific to these areas, we hope that colleagues across the University will benefit from our findings. 

What tips would you give to someone who is thinking about applying to the University Education Development Fund? 

  • Work with the Student Employment on Campus Team. During our first round of funding we initially had some problems recruiting the right student for the role but this year have found the process much easier.
  • Think about how the research that you are carrying out can enhance your teaching and the teaching of others. Using the University Education Development Fund provides an excellent opportunity to do this. 
  • Listen to the feedback following your application. After our first application we were asked to provide some further information. We got in touch with colleagues in LTDS to make sure we provided the best responses to the queries raised.

Find out more 

If you have an idea for a project with real benefit to students’ education find out more about the University Education Development Fund on the Learning and Teaching website. 

Lana and Mei will be at the Education Development Fund workshop on the 25 March at 3pm. Sign up to hear more and to find out everything you need to know about making a successful application.


Leave a Reply