Critical Thinking Tedxsmu

Ashley Nicola Wali

Ashley Nicola Wali is a Fashion Media and Finance double major at SMU. In 2012, she founded a non-profit called The Nari Project, which creates and distributes crisis kits to domestic abuse victims as they transition from a critical situation to a place of safety. Since then, she has distributed kits in Bangladesh and Dallas, and partnered with Engaged Learning, Clinton Global Initiative University and Big iDeas to expand my initiative. Last year, she started Théorie, a magazine that celebrates the disciplines of fashion, film, music and art with a critical and creative eye.

Dale Thomas Vaughn

Best-selling author of “The Good Life Plan for Men,” Dale Thomas Vaughn helps men and boys overcome numbness and stagnancy to create more connection, purpose and joy in life. He is the Editor of Leadership & Business at The Good Men Project and the founder of the EmpowerMentorship Institute, where he has led more than 300 workshops for groups of men, schools, companies and college administrators. Find more about him at DaleThomasVaughn.com.

Greg Brownderville

Greg Brownderville has published a book of poems titled Gust (Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly, 2011) and a book of folkloristic poems titled Deep Down in the Delta (Butler Center Books, 2012). His third book, a collection of poems titled A Horse with Holes in It (LSU Press, Southern Messenger Poets series), is slated for release in fall 2016. Brownderville teaches Introduction to Creative Writing and upper-level poetry workshop. www.gregbrownderville.com

Jennifer Jones

Jennifer M. Jones earned her B.A. and her Masters of Liberal Arts from Southern Methodist University. She joined the Staff of SMU in 1985. After serving 16 years in various roles within Residence Life and Student Housing, Ms. Jones went on to be the Director of Multicultural Student Affairs and later Assistant Dean of Student Life, Director of Student Activities & Multicultural Student Affairs at Southern Methodist University. In her current role as the Executive Director of Student Life, she supports and advises the Student Association as well as coordinates the Social Event Registration process through her office. Ms. Jones supervises the Directors of the Women & LGBT Center, Family and Parent Programs, and the Associate Dean overseeing the Caring Community Connections (CCC) program

Jim Hart

Jim Hart serves as Director of the Arts Entrepreneurship program at SMU. Hart founded the first conservatory for theatre entrepreneurship, TITAN Theatre Academy, in Oslo, Norway and is a graduate of SMU Theatre and Yale School of Drama. He is the winner of the USASBE Spark! prize for impactful entrepreneurial exercises and a co-founder of the Society for Arts Entrepreneurship Education. www.artsentrepreneurshipgames.com

Jonah Kirby

Jonah Kirby is a junior at SMU pursuing a major in Mechanical Engineering with the aspiration of doing design engineering full time. Jonah loves the outdoors; fishing, hunting, and being a proud Texan is what he loves most. In the past three years, Jonah has focused on product design and engineering, having completed numerous projects such as a SLA 3d printer, a direct-drive wind turbine, and an autonomous robot that could find, test, and remediate various water sources. As a design engineer at a startup company in Austin called Reaction, Jonah designed, prototyped, and engineered many different components of Reaction's flagship product, the Exo, which is a modular disaster response housing unit. Although he is passionate about engineering, Jonah sees design research and human centered design as a pivotal part of building a truly amazing product. With his unique background and experiences, Jonah hopes to redesign the way people think and feel about alternative energy.

Justin Mueller

I was blessed as a child to be raised in Germany to military parents and for the opportunities I was given to travel throughout Europe and the Americas. Though travel has helped to shape my philanthropic views of the world, my passion for service really began when I moved to Seattle at 20 years old. In the following six years I used my 25th birthday to raise money for an HIV/AIDS nonprofit, I worked with a group of young professionals (Philanthro) to produce multiple events around town raising money for nonprofits such as the YMCA, and volunteered countless hours to various organizations. Philanthropy is something that I am very passionate about, and I hope to inspire others to get creative with how they give back to their communities. To follow my journey and to keep in touch, find me on Facebook and Twitter! @JustinHMueller

Karla del Rosal

In Mexico, I went to business school and worked as a corporate banker for some years. In 2011, I moved to the U.S. and my son Rodrigo started experiencing multiple social, emotional, and academic challenges in his school. As Rodrigo's advocate, I became an active parent volunteer; later, a school paraprofessional; and eventually, a certified bilingual teacher. Once in the classroom, I realized that unfortunately most teachers were not prepared to effectively teach the growing population of English language learner students like my son. This was particularly true in K-12 mathematics and science classrooms. With the purpose of learning more about this urgent matter, I obtained a Ph.D. in Education at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity Program. Today, I am proud to be an Assistant Professor in Teaching and Learning in Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

Lackland H Bloom, Jr

I have taught Constitutional Law and Freedom of Speech and Religion at the Dedman School of Law for the past 36 years. I teach a course in Comparative Freedom of Speech: US and UK in the Law School’s summer program at University College, Oxford. I have recently published two books on the Supreme Court and Constitutional Law with the Oxford University Press—Methods of Interpretation (2009) and Do Great Cases Make Bad Law? (2014). I am a passionate defender of freedom of speech which I believe is always under assault.

Maya Jones

Maya A. Jones, Soprano, a Texas Native, has been studying voice since the young age of 11. Eager to learn all she could about her love of Voice, Maya participated in regional and state competitions, performed every chance she had and has already enjoyed over a decade of choral work. Education has been a large part of her life, starting with her acceptance into the selective Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts where she was active in her choir, took lead roles in school productions and had strong showings in state, national and international competitions. Maya enjoys traveling and has made memories singing in Greece, South Africa and this summer, made many more performing in the Amalfi Music Festival in Italy.

Mel Fugate

Mel Fugate is an associate professor of Management and Organizations in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. His research and consulting aim to enhance individual and organizational performance by utilizing a variety of practical, research-based tools related to leadership development, organizational change, performance management, organizational culture, and employee engagement. His research and consulting span many industries (e.g., legal, energy, healthcare, information technology, and financial services) and often involve organizational assessments intended to measure the human resource health of organizations. He has published in and reviewed for a number of premier management and applied psychology journals and is a coauthor of a new book—“Organizational Behavior: A Practical, Problem Solving Approach.” Professor Fugate is an award-winning teacher who has taught in both the United States and France.

Milan Sevak

Milan Sevak is currently a faculty member at SMU and directs the Ed.D. program in educational leadership. He has previously served in school and district roles in a variety of settings. Most recently, Milan worked as Assistant Superintendent of Strategic Leadership in Dallas ISD, where he led the District's efforts to reform teacher evaluation, compensation, and support systems. Previously, he also served as a Division Assistant Superintendent and was responsible for student outcomes for 41 schools with 30,000 students. Prior to joining Dallas ISD, Milan worked as Deputy Chief of School Performance in the Chicago Public Schools, Special Assistant to the Superintendent in Austin ISD, and Director of Instruction & Assessment for Leadership Public Schools (a charter management organization in the San Francisco Bay Area). Milan received a B.A. from the University of Chicago, an M.B.A. from Northwestern University, and an M.Ed. and Ed.D. from Harvard University.

Quinton Linn

My credentials for giving this talk are not professional, but personal. As someone who was diagnosed with learning disabilities at a young age, I have been handicapped, not by lack of intelligence, but by inability to fit into other people's definition of intelligence. This has given me a special appreciation for falling outside of standard measures of intelligence.

Robert Hunt

Robert A. Hunt was born in Dallas, Texas, in 1955. After attending school in Austin and Richardson, he majored in History at the University of Texas in Austin. After completing a Master of Theology at Perkins School of Theology (SMU) he and his wife Lilian moved to Kuala Lumpur, where they taught at the Seminary Theology Malaysia. From 1993 to 1997 he taught at the Trinity Theological College in Singapore. In 1994 he received his PhD from the University of Malaya, focusing on Christian understandings of and relationships with Muslims in Southeast Asia. From 1997 to 2004 he was a United Methodist pastor in Vienna, and Adjunct Professor in International Relations at Webster University in Vienna. Dr. Hunt is presently Director of Global Theological Education at the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University and teaches courses in World Religions, Inter-religious Dialogue, and Cultural Intelligence.

Rochelle Carr

Rochelle was raised in Dallas, Texas by a single mother and a loving set of Grandparents, were she received a solid foundation in faith. Her Grandmother (Bigmama) was a driving force in her life that showed her with prayer and faith anything is possible. Often while preparing a meal and at dinner, Bigmama would tell stories that challenged her to reach for nothing less than her full potential. Bigmama would often say, "you have many choices to make, but remember the results are yours to experience;" and Rochelle has experienced many things. She is a graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and a Master of Public Administration. She received a Master of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology Southern Methodist University. And a Doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminar, in Pasadena, CA.

Thomas Siems

Thomas Siems is Chief Engineering Economist and Senior Lecturer in the Lyle School of Engineering at SMU and also Assistant Vice President and Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. He has researched the productive efficiency of systems for more than 30 years and is author of the National Association for Business Economics' award-winning papers "Strengthening Globalization's Invisible Hand: What Matters Most?" (with Adam Ratner) and "Who Supplied My Cheese? Supply Chain Management in the Global Economy." Dr. Siems has received several outstanding teacher awards in the Lyle School at SMU as an educational and entertaining speaker.

Ulrike Schultze

Ulrike Schultze is Associate Professor in Information Technology and Operations Management at Southern Methodist University. Her research explores the impact of information technology on work practices. She has studied the work practice implications of knowledge management technology and of Internet-based self-service technology. Most recently, she has been focusing on the implications of social media technologies, specifically the virtual world Second Life, for identity work. Dr. Schultze frequently relies on multi-method research designs, which include ethnographic observations, interviews and surveys. During her tenure at SMU, Dr. Schultze has taught a variety of classes in the BBA, MBA, MSA and MSBA programs. Dr. Schultze holds a Bachelors’ and Masters’ degree in Information Systems from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. She earned her PhD in Management, with a concentration in Information Systems, from Case Western Reserve University.

Willie Baronet

Willie Baronet was the owner and creative director of his own advertising design firm (formerly GroupBaronet, now MasonBaronet) from 1992-2006. In 2013 he was given the AIGA Fellow award, the highest honor an AIGA chapter can bestow upon one of its members. Willie graduated with an MFA in Arts and Technology from UTD in 2011. Willie is a 1982 graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He has taught advertising design at Brookhaven Community College, Texas A&M at Commerce, TCU, and has served as visiting faculty for the MA Program at Syracuse University. He was recently named the Stan Richards Professor of Creative Advertising at SMU's Temerlin Advertising Institute where he now teaches classes related to creativity and portfolio development.

No matter what walk of life you come from, what industry you’re interested in pursuing or how much experience you’ve already garnered, we’ve all seen firsthand the importance of critical thinking skills. In fact, lacking such skills can truly make or break a person’s career, as the consequences of one’s inability to process and analyze information effectively can be massive.

“The ability to think critically is more important now than it has ever been,” urges Kris Potrafka, founder and CEO of Music Firsthand. “Everything is at risk if we don’t all learn to think more critically.” If people cannot think critically, he explains, they not only lessen their prospects of climbing the ladder in their respective industries, but they also become easily susceptible to things like fraud and manipulation.

With that in mind, you’re likely wondering what you can do to make sure you’re not one of those people. Developing your critical thinking skills is something that takes concentrated work. It can be best to begin by exploring the definition of critical thinking and the skills it includes—once you do, you can then venture toward the crucial question at hand: How can I improve?

This is no easy task, which is why we aimed to help break down the basic elements of critical thinking and offer suggestions on how you can refine the skills that drive your own critical thinking abilities.

What is critical thinking?

Even if you want to be a better critical thinker, it’s hard to improve upon something you can’t define. Critical thinking is the analysis of an issue or situation and the facts, data or evidence related to it. Ideally, critical thinking is to be done objectively—meaning without influence from personal feelings, opinions or biases—and it focuses solely on factual information.

Critical thinking is a skill that allows you to make logical and informed decisions to the best of your ability. For example, a child who has not yet developed such skills might believe the Tooth Fairy left money under their pillow based on stories their parents told them. A critical thinker, however, can quickly conclude that the existence of such a thing is probably unlikely—even if there are a few bucks under their pillow.

6 Crucial critical thinking skills (and how you can improve them)

While there’s no universal standard for what skills are included in the critical thinking process, we’ve boiled it down to the following six.

1. Identification

The first step in the critical thinking process is to identify the situation or problem as well as the factors that may influence it. Once you have a clear picture of the situation and the people, groups or factors that may be influenced, you can then begin to dive deeper into an issue and its potential solutions.

How to improve: When facing any new situation, question or scenario, stop to take a mental inventory of the state of affairs and ask the following questions:

  • Who is doing what?
  • What seems to be the reason for this happening?
  • What are the end results, and how could they change? 

2. Research

When comparing arguments about an issue, independent research ability is key. Arguments are meant to be persuasive—that means the facts and figures presented in their favor might be lacking in context or come from questionable sources. The best way to combat this is independent verification; find the source of the information and evaluate.

How to improve: It can be helpful to develop an eye for unsourced claims. Does the person posing the argument offer where they got this information from? If you ask or try to find it yourself and there’s no clear answer, that should be considered a red flag. It’s also important to know that not all sources are equally valid—take the time to learn the difference between popular and scholarly articles.

3. Identifying biases

This skill can be exceedingly difficult, as even the smartest among us can fail to recognize biases. Strong critical thinkers do their best to evaluate information objectively. Think of yourself as a judge in that you want to evaluate the claims of both sides of an argument, but you’ll also need to keep in mind the biases each side may possess.

It is equally important—and arguably more difficult—to learn how to set aside your own personal biases that may cloud your judgement. “Have the courage to debate and argue with your own thoughts and assumptions,” Potrafka encourages. “This is essential for learning to see things from different viewpoints.”

How to improve: “Challenge yourself to identify the evidence that forms your beliefs, and assess whether or not your sources are credible,” offers Ruth Wilson, director of development at Brightmont Academy.

First and foremost, you must be aware that bias exists. When evaluating information or an argument, ask yourself the following:

  • Who does this benefit?
  • Does the source of this information appear to have an agenda?
  • Is the source overlooking, ignoring or leaving out information that doesn’t support its beliefs or claims?
  • Is this source using unnecessary language to sway an audience’s perception of a fact?

4. Inference

The ability to infer and draw conclusions based on the information presented to you is another important skill for mastering critical thinking. Information doesn’t always come with a summary that spells out what it means. You’ll often need to assess the information given and draw conclusions based upon raw data.

The ability to infer allows you to extrapolate and discover potential outcomes when assessing a scenario. It is also important to note that not all inferences will be correct. For example, if you read that someone weighs 260 pounds, you might infer they are overweight or unhealthy. Other data points like height and body composition, however, may alter that conclusion.

How to improve: An inference is an educated guess, and your ability to infer correctly can be polished by making a conscious effort to gather as much information as possible before jumping to conclusions. When faced with a new scenario or situation to evaluate, first try skimming for clues—things like headlines, images and prominently featured statistics—and then make a point to ask yourself what you think is going on.

5. Determining relevance

One of the most challenging parts of any critical thinking scenario is figuring out what information is the most important for your consideration. In many scenarios, you’ll be presented with information that may seem important, but it may pan out to be only a minor data point to consider.

How to improve: The best way to get better at determining relevance is by establishing a clear direction in what you’re trying to figure out. Are you tasked with finding a solution? Should you be identifying a trend? If you figure out your end goal, you can use this to inform your judgement of what is relevant.

Even with a clear objective, however, it can still be difficult to determine what information is truly relevant. One strategy for combating this is to make a physical list of data points ranked in order of relevance. When you parse it out this way, you’ll likely end up with a list that includes a couple of obviously relevant pieces of information at the top of your list, in addition to some points at the bottom that you can likely disregard. From there, you can narrow your focus on the less clear-cut topics that reside in the middle of your list for further evaluation.

6. Curiosity

It’s incredibly easy to sit back and take everything presented to you at face value, but that can also be also a recipe for disaster when faced with a scenario that requires critical thinking. It’s true that we’re all naturally curious—just ask any parent who has faced an onslaught of “Why?” questions from their child. As we get older, it can be easier to get in the habit of keeping that impulse to ask questions at bay. But that’s not a winning approach for critical thinking.

How to improve: While it might seem like a curious mind is just something you’re born with, you can still train yourself to foster that curiosity productively. All it takes is a conscious effort to ask open-ended questions about the things you see in your everyday life, and you can then invest the time to follow up on these questions.

“Being able to ask open-ended questions is an important skill to develop—and bonus points for being able to probe,” Potrafka says.

Put your critical thinking skills to work

Critical thinking skills are vital for anyone looking to have a successful college career and a fruitful professional life upon graduation. Your ability to objectively analyze and evaluate complex subjects and situations will always be useful. Unlock your potential by practicing and refining the six critical thinking skills above. 

Most professionals credit their time in college as having been crucial in the development of their critical thinking abilities. If you’re looking to improve your skills in a way that can impact your life and career moving forward, higher education is a fantastic venue through which to achieve that. For some of the surefire signs you’re ready to take the next step in your education, visit our article, “6 Signs You’re Ready to Be a College Student.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2012. It has since been updated.

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