general studies

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Critical Thinking

Introduction

In any form of academic exploit the most important ingredient is surely an ability to think critically. In simple terms, "critical thinking" means thinking with an unwavering attention and an analytical eye, taking in the smallest details and processing information so very carefully as to prevent any form of inadvertent omissions and misinterpretations. Such a critical approach to thinking is most certainly related to an attempt by an individual to convincingly demonstrate his or her understanding. Thus it seems someone who comes from a student-centric training exercise will have an obvious advantage in the sphere of "critical thinking" but in reality it is not necessarily so. Critical thinking is a distinct technique that begins with the student needing to have a clear understanding of the viewpoint and if possible some previous knowledge (Wallace and Wray 2006). With the modern society becoming more and more complex and information being created and revised more rapidly it has become certain for us to constantly rethink, switch to new direction and change the problem solving strategies. Thus it is now increasingly important to include critical thinking during the early stages of learning to help students develop strategies to apply their knowledge to solve complex situations in their daily activities. Sometimes there are some common barriers in thinking critically for students in their daily activities to tackle complex situation. I will elaborate my academic experience at Cardiff business school and obstacles that I faced in my early approach to studies, and how I countered such difficulties and overcome these barriers to think critically and after overcoming how I cultivated a masterly approach to my work. In that process developed skills and effective strategies to incorporate these for my future development and also during the MBA module.

Problems faced on embarking with the current course

During the initial stages of my course I had a major cultural shock / cultural drift as I had come from India where the educational system is different and also there wasn't a requirement for me to think or act critically. Till then I have a fixed syllabus and limited reading but when I came to the masters level I was required to do a bundle of reading which I was not used to. As I am from an engineering background it is often found that the way an engineer perceives a problem is radically different from the way an accountant may look at it. Stella Cottrell, another path breaker in unconventional methods of critical reading and thinking has ventured beyond the academic and well documented zone and incorporated in her repertoire of critical thinking such concepts as lateral thinking, reflection, logical reasoning and some other revolutionary concepts that go a long way in motivating relevant individuals to try their hand at critical thinking and writing. Persons who have for years been trained to respond in a particular way have found courage to think laterally and perceive a problem from a different perspective than what normally comes to their mind after becoming acquainted with Stella Cottrell's unconventional and often rather unusual methods of thinking critically. (Cottrell 2005) I have been especially benefitted from Stella Cottrell's unconventional methods as, though it might sound rather peculiar, her tendency to break away from the conventional and venture into territories hitherto uncharted has given me the courage that was absolutely necessary for me to break away from the mental blockade that I had created for myself when I enrolled for the MBA course. I had qualified as a computer engineer back in India before I came over to the United Kingdom. Engineering in general and computer engineering in particular needs very little linguistic skill as most of the communication revolves around terse programming language and all literature in this field of study are written in language that is very technical. So, the first problem that I faced was an inability to properly comprehend the text that often was, if not repetitive, but surely looked at an issue from several perspectives. This was especially evident in Marketing, Organisational Behaviour, Strategic Management and Human Resource Management studies. Initially I felt confused and was going in circles in trying to locate the core issue as I had never earlier faced a situation where the solution to a problem was not unique but an excess of possibilities. But both Marketing and Human Resource Management, though having a formidable array of theories, essentially deal with human beings and, as we all know, human beings can never be slotted in neat categories or pigeon holes as say one could do with silicon chips or other components that formed the innards of a computer. Thus any solution in Marketing or Human Resource Management came along with a host of associated assumptions and conditions and more often than not the final outcome of a rigorous analysis was an array of possibilities that might occur with respect to alterations in parameters. When I ventured into economics the ceteris paribus condition was something that became rather difficult to digest as being a person from computer background I refused to accept a situation where a data continuously swung between two extremes of being a parameter and a variable. How could, my mind would rebel, a parameter become a variable and the other way round depending on what we were testing – this was something that never ever occurred in computer engineering. There all those that were parameters remained parameters all through and all those that were variable continuously varied irrespective of circumstances in which the machine or the software operated. The situation became even more critical as we completed Microeconomics and stepped into Macroeconomics. Study of Microeconomics assumes that micro variables remain constant, e.g., it is assumed that the aggregate output is given while we are studying determination of output and price of an individual firm or industry. Study of Macroeconomics, on the other hand, assumes that micro variables remain constant, e.g., it is assumed that distribution of income remains constant when we are studying the determination of aggregate output and income level. Now all these issues seem pretty obvious but in the initial stages it indeed seemed like a conundrum that would swallow me before I get a chance to escape. Finance was not a brighter story either. The very concept that business is a juristic person having a legal identity of its own separate from the promoters or the owners of the business took quite some time to settle down in my mind. When the course ventured to cash flows and fund flows it became even more precarious. Who would have ever thought that a firm earning massive profits might actually not have enough money to pay the electricity bills and workers might receive their weekly payments much later than the usual payment date. Further in the modules such as Marketing and Business plan I had work in a team which was new to me and had to cope up with the team members. This kind of learning was new to me which was also a barrier to my performance in the respective modules Moreover, I had difficulty in understanding the language and accent of the professors as I had a medium level of English learning in my school and also in the under-graduation level. Hence it was tiresome to comprehend to cope up with the lectures

How I gradually overcame those hurdles

A new attempt to consciously undertake critical thinking helped me to overcome these initial intellectual hurdles. Critical thinking is nothing more than an attempt to think rationally and try to implement such a rational attitude in actions and decisions. (Ennis 1981) Such a rational approach helps in solving problems and logically choosing between alternatives and making judgement that seemed logical and rational and what is most important, optimal under the given circumstances. (Beyer 1995) Good judgement as one would surely agree depends on good reasoning skills which again depend on competent inquiry, concept-formation, and translation skills. (Hitchock 1983) Critical thinking is thus not only a set of skills that need to be learned like say one would learn how to operate a pneumatic drill but a set of skills that should always be accompanied by a corresponding sets of acceptable behaviours in order to make such fully effective and potent. (Lipman 1988) Thus it requires a constant attempt to think critically in daily life, monitoring and thinking about one's own thought processes, and acting congruently with one's critical thinking. (Norris 1985) I could very keenly appreciate the need to master critical thinking skills as they are sorely needed to deal with the increasing complexities of real-life problems. This became increasingly apparent to me as I knew that being a management student I needed to analyze decision-making scenarios, understand the needs of the different stakeholders, manage the interactions between the stakeholders, identify alternatives, and identify suitable criteria to evaluate these alternatives. On this basis, as a student I needed to recognize and understand the tradeoffs and compromises needed in real decision-making scenarios. All these activities demand critical thinking from them. Bloom had set down a category of objectives known as cognitive objectives or Bloom's taxonomy for thinking. (Bloom 1956) These objectives try to evaluate whether a student is able to perform in certain desirable ways after instruction and at a later date Guillette constructed six major subcategories of these cognitive objectives. The subcategories in increasing order of complexity include (a) knowledge, (b) comprehension, (c) application, (d) analysis, (e) synthesis, and (f) evaluation. Knowledge involves recall of information. Comprehension involves the lowest level of understanding where the reader knows what is being communicated and can use it in its immediate context. Application consists of the use of ideas, principles, and theories in a particular context. (Guillemette 1991) Once I understood the composition of cognition I consciously tried to work my way upwards the cognition ladder. The activities of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are generally treated as higher order thinking skills. Analysis involves the separation of parts of a communication or problem into distinct elements. Some examples of analysis include (a) categorizing items, (b) comparing items, (c) disassembling a product, (d) examining a specimen, (e) distinguishing patterns, and (f) recognizing patterns. Synthesis is a process that puts parts together to form a new structure. Some examples of synthesis include (a) writing a new communication, (b) developing a plan, (c) designing a product, (d) proposing a strategy, and assembling a product. Evaluation means making a judgment on the basis of explicit and relatively complex criteria as opposed to making a judgment on the basis of inherent likes and dislikes. Judgments may be quantitative or qualitative. Some examples of evaluation include (a) comparing proposals, (b) ranking projects, (c) recommending candidates, and (d) appraising market values of homes. (Page and Mukherjee 2007) Professors gave us sufficient assignments to work out at home and provided enough case studies in the syndicates that offered me a real life instances of how critical thinking by those that mattered helped organisation to thrive and prosper even when competitors found it hard to survive. Participation in classroom negotiation role-plays and successful completion of one-on-one negotiation also helped me to sharpen my skills of critical thinking and finally I could get a firm handle on management subjects through active implementation of critical thinking techniques under able guidance of my professor. To Conclude, I inculcated the above mentioned and any other process to gain the Masterly approach in Critical thinking which were basic necessity for me at post-graduation level in Cardiff Business School. Finally, I would like to conclude by saying that my learning in Cardiff Business School had been a constructive one on my overall learning. Also I picked up various precious skills and knowledge which helped me gain close understanding of my own individuality.


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