Eva van der Brugge

‘The Use of Argument Mapping in Improving Critical Thinking’ (PhD in Philosophy, 2018).

Critical thinking is not defined clearly enough to guide teachers in practice. Even within the broad definitional categories that can be discerned, individual definitions are rarely specific enough to allow for clear educational or assessment frameworks. Purpose-built critical thinking tests mostly fail to meet psychometrical standards. Where existing tests do measure a skill reliably, it is as of yet unclear to what extent this is more than intelligence or critical reading. This failure in definition and measurement is especially problematic given the proliferation of attempts to improve critical thinking. Methodological objections often cloud claims of effective teaching. Argument mapping is the method with the clearest case for efficacy. In 2011-2012, the Melbourne Critical Thinking Project tested the hypothesis that courses in argument mapping could dramatically improve critical thinking when combined with proven teaching techniques. Methodological considerations made the mixed results of the Melbourne Critical Thinking Project harder to interpret, further demonstrating challenges of teaching an ill-defined concept. After reviewing new evidence from this project, I conclude that the source of argument mapping’s success is likely its use as a mediator in pedagogy. From 2013, I partook in a study at Princeton University. We were able to pre-empt some of the methodological challenges, thus providing further clarity into the efficacy of argument mapping. We found that teaching philosophy with argument maps was successful in a clearly delineated application. I conclude that there is so much room for improvement even among the brightest students in improving skills prerequisite to full-blown critical thinking, that it is likely worthwhile abandoning this muddled concept and focus on good teaching of these basic skills, aided by pedagogical tools like argument mapping. These skills are simply: good reading and understanding the basic structure of arguments.