Pedagogies for Critical Thinking: Innovation and Outcomes in African Higher Education

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Humanities and Social Sciences

Abstract

New understanding of the ways in which higher education contributes to economic and human development has strengthened the justification for investment in higher education in lower-income contexts in recent years. This, in turn, has prompted a wave of reform and revitalisation efforts within African higher education systems. One of the primary assumptions motivating such reforms is that higher education encourages the ability to think critically about problems and to use evidence when making decisions. However, there is evidence to suggest that the assumption that students improve their critical thinking skills as a result of university study may not be valid in many African contexts. Concern about the capacity of graduates from African universities to demonstrate 'high skills', such as critical thinking, has prompted a growing recognition of the need for pedagogical change within many African higher education institutions. A problem for higher education policy in the region, however, is that this renewed interest in the importance of teaching and learning is supported by limited empirical evidence, as there has been little analysis of the effectiveness of pedagogical practice within African universities. Although there is a substantial body of literature investigating the ways in which academic experiences at university can positively influence the development of student critical thinking skills, much of the current evidence rests on research conducted in other cultural contexts, particularly the USA, UK, Australia and, to a limited extent, East Asia. There are, therefore, concerns about how applicable such findings may be to African university contexts.

This project aims to expand the existing evidence base around how pedagogical practices affect the development of critical thinking at African higher education institutions by investigating the impact of locally-generated pedagogical interventions on student critical thinking ability in Kenya, Ghana and Botswana. The study follows a mixed methods design, comprising a longitudinal study of student outcomes and a qualitative investigation of how institutions are able to encourage processes of pedagogical change. In each country context, our institutional sample will consist of six faculties: three which have been purposively selected due to their attempts at pedagogical reform, and three 'matched' faculties which have similar characteristics to the intervention faculties but have not yet attempted any pedagogical interventions. Within each faculty, a random sample of 100 incoming students will complete a critical thinking assessment (adapted for use in the study contexts) at the beginning of their first year and again at the end of their second year at university. Gains in assessment scores will be compared between faculties, in order to investigate whether students enrolled in the intervention faculties demonstrate more progress than students enrolled in faculties which have not attempted any pedagogical reform. Additional analysis will investigate which pedagogical practices have the strongest impact on improvements in critical thinking ability. Parallel to the longitudinal study, in-depth qualitative case studies will be conducted within the 'intervention' Faculties, in order to gain insight into the intervention implementation process. The results of the project will provide potentially generalisable evidence of the effectiveness of pedagogical interventions currently being implemented within African universities.

Planned Impact

Three groups of stakeholders will benefit directly from this research: national and international policy makers and donors supporting higher education reform; administrators working at higher education institutions in the region; and researchers at African universities. The research will also indirectly benefit undergraduate students and support broader development efforts in the region.

As outlined in our Case for Support, there is interest across Sub-Saharan Africa in improving teaching and learning within institutions of higher education. The results of this study will provide insights into the kinds of interventions that impact significantly on student critical thinking ability while elucidating the contextual factors that help institutions manage processes of pedagogical change. The outputs of this study will therefore inform reform efforts in the region, by supporting stakeholders at the institutional, national and supranational levels.

Most directly, the results will be useful to administrators at the participating institutions, as well as the home institutions of our in-country team leads, as they will gain access to contextually relevant data that can be used to improve and support teaching and learning strategies. There are likely to be spill-over effects into other institutions, both locally and in neighbouring countries, through the involvement of participating institutions in regional higher education policy bodies, such as the Inter-University Council for East Africa. The results of the study will also benefit national policy-makers who are working to implement higher education reform.

Results of the study will also inform the funding decisions made by multilateral and bilateral agencies supporting higher education in Africa - such as the World Bank, DFID, USAID, AusAID and SIDA - by providing them with robust evidence of which interventions have a positive impact on academic quality in the region. Pan-African organisations that support African universities will also benefit from the findings when working to support member institutions to develop and improve their teaching and learning strategies.

We intend to organise stakeholder seminars and dissemination workshops within the three country contexts (outlined in detail in the Pathways to Impact document) in order to maintain strong links with these key stakeholders throughout the life of the project.

In addition to the potential impacts of the study results, the research process will also contribute to capacity building in the region. Three members of the core team are local researchers from Kenya, Ghana and Botswana, with two of the three acting as directors of research at their institutions. Their involvement in all phases of the study is likely to increase and improve local research efforts in this area, particularly given the study's use of a new methodology for the region.

Of course, the ultimate beneficiaries of any reforms based on the study results will be the undergraduate students studying at African institutions, as the use of evidence from the study should help university lecturers to construct the kinds of academic experiences which support deep student learning, a change process which will be of significant benefit to students across the region.

Beyond individual stakeholders, the study results will also contribute indirectly to economic and human development in the region. Although higher education has been found to positively impact development in a range of ways, most of the pathways to impact assume that graduates will leave university with the 'high skills' that are necessary for participation in the global knowledge economy. This study will offer important new knowledge about how universities in Africa can encourage the development of such skills in their student populations, thereby contributing to the development potential of Africa's higher education institutions.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The Pedagogies for Critical Thinking project aimed to: (1) expand our empirical knowledge of how different pedagogies affect the development of critical thinking in African university contexts, and (2) explore how African universities approach and manage complicated processes of pedagogical change.

The main findings are as follows:

1. Student 'gains' in critical thinking vary by institution

Improvement in critical thinking could be seen in the sample as a whole. However, these 'gains' vary by institution. The analysis reveals that, although progress can be identified in a number of sites, three institutions experienced gains significantly beyond what would be expected, given participant backgrounds and incoming critical thinking ability.

2. The mere introduction of more 'learner-centred' teaching methods is not sufficient for encouraging the development of critical thinking skills

Much of the published literature on higher education in Africa presents a picture of 'outdated' traditional pedagogy. What is clear from the results of this study, however, is that this is no longer an accurate portrayal of teaching practices within African universities. In many respects, this is a positive finding. However, this also means that many institutions in the sample have incorporated more 'learner-centred', active teaching methods but have not seen an improvement in student critical thinking skills.

3. Institutions must foster a shared understanding of teaching as being primarily about facilitation of learning (not transmission of 'content')

Improvement in critical thinking requires a learning environment in which students are exposed to a variety of viewpoints and perspectives. They must also learn to view 'knowledge' as something that is constantly changing as new understandings emerge. A key implication for other universities interested in pedagogical reform is that teaching orientations will affect the likely impacts of any pedagogical reform. Staff must be intentionally supported to modify their teaching orientations in order for the intended impact to be realised.

4. Universities must grant teaching staff sufficient time to discuss and improve their practice, in order to foster pedagogical change

Two of the 'stand-out' institutions in the study have worked to create a shared teaching culture, by:
• Explicitly articulating the institutional (or departmental) teaching philosophy - and intentionally orienting both new staff and students to the teaching approach/philosophy when they first arrive
• Providing regular, ongoing development for teaching staff, including both formal and informal opportunities for discussion about teaching with institutional/departmental colleagues
As a result of these sustained efforts, lecturers are able to articulate a shared 'way of doing things'.

5. The structure of the curriculum and the content/format of final examinations also affect critical thinking skills.

Another key factor emerging from the PCT study is that all three of the 'stand-out' institutions have ensured that critical thinking is a required skill across the curriculum. The key implication is that critical thinking should be 'infused' across the curriculum, with lecturers in all modules giving explicit thought as to how they are expecting students to both develop and demonstrate such skills.
Exploitation Route The primary uptake of this research will be within universities and the higher education system itself. The research provides a strong endorsement of the importance of the learning environment in universities for the development of critical thinking: it provides evidence to support the work of advocates within African universities (and beyond) who are aiming to innovate and transform pedagogy. It also provides more specific pointers for those reforming systems and institutions: for example the centrality of teaching orientations, and therefore of well-designed academic staff development programmes, and spaces for peer support and reflection.

In the course of this research study, we have developed methodological tools which may be taken up and used subsequently by researchers: these include versions of the collegiate learning assessment, the study process questionnaire and the national survey of student engagement, all adapted for the three African contexts.

The knock-on benefits will be to society as a whole. The research is predicated on the crucial role of critical thinking in solving the complex problems facing the global community, including climate change and socio-economic inequalities, in strengthening democracy, developing innovation, and ensuring prosperous societies.
Sectors Education

 
Description In the short time since the findings of the study have been made public, they have started to have significant impact through the meetings we have held with institutional managers and public dissemination events, as well as the actions and networks of our in-country researchers. This impact has occurred at two levels: national and institutional. At the national level, bodies overseeing higher education have acknowledged the importance of incorporating critical thinking to a greater extent in national higher education strategy. The Commission for University Education in Kenya, for example, has requested a follow-up meeting to develop policy in this area. In Kenya, Ghana and Botswana there have been meetings with senior management in each of the participating institutions: in the majority of these institutions, there has been a request for follow-up collaborations and actions, including the development of critical thinking assessments for undergraduate students to be run by the institutions themselves; academic staff development workshops for promoting critical thinking; and the incorporation of new forms of pedagogy and assessment.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Education
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Adapting critical thinking assessments for use in diverse cultural contexts 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation made by Rebecca Schendel at the UKFIET conference on education and international development in Oxford, UK. Raised awareness of methodological issues when applying critical thinking assessments in Africa.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Catholic University of East Africa teaching and learning strategy meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Wednesday 27th February, 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Critical Thinking In African Higher Education: What Role For Pedagogy? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presentation made by Caine Rolleston, Christopher Kwaah and Ana Grijalva Espinosa at the UKFIET conference. Audience of policymakers, third sector representatives, academics and graduate students. Contribution to debates around methodologies relating to learning outcomes in higher education, as well as understanding of the link between pedagogy and critical thinking.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Critical thinking in African higher education: findings from a three country research study 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Public dissemination event in London (held at UCL on January 9, 2019).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Critical thinking in Kenyan higher education: a research colloquium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact End of project national dissemination event. Participation of policymakers, researchers and study participants. Planning for future interventions and strategies.
Friday 1st March 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Daystar University Teaching and learning strategy meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Tuesday 26th February, 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Institutional dissemination event at Ashesi University, Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Date: March 11th 2019
Presenters: Christine Adu-Yeboah, Caine Rolleston and Chris Kwaah
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Institutional dissemination event at Ba Isago University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Date: 14th February, 2019
Presenters: Richard Tabulawa, Rebecca Schendel
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Institutional dissemination event at Botho University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Date: 13th February, 2019
Presenters: Richard Tabulawa, Rebecca Schendel
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Institutional dissemination event at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Date: March 8th 2019
Presenters: Christine Adu-Yeboah, Caine Rolleston and Chris Kwaah
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Institutional dissemination event at University of Botswana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Date: 12th February, 2019
Presenters: Richard Tabulawa, Rebecca Schendel
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Institutional dissemination event at University of Development Studies, Wa, Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Date: March 7th 2019
Presenters: Caine Rolleston and Chris Kwaah
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Institutional dissemination event at Valley View University, Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Date: March 11th 2019
Presenters: Christine Adu-Yeboah, Caine Rolleston and Chris Kwaah
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description KCA University teaching and learning strategy meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Tuesday 26th February, 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Moi University teaching and learning strategy meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Friday 1st March 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description National public dissemination event, Botswana 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact End of project national dissemination event. Participation of policymakers, researchers and study participants. Planning for future interventions and strategies.
Date: 12th February, 2019
Presenters: Richard Tabulawa, Rebecca Schendel
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description National public dissemination event, Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact End of project national dissemination event. Participation of policymakers, researchers and study participants. Planning for future interventions and strategies.
Cleaver House, Accra
Date: March 12th 2019
Presenters: Christine Adu-Yeboah, Caine Rolleston and Chris Kwaah
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Pedagogical Innovation and Critical Thinking in HE: Evidence from Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Symposium: Raising Learning Outcomes Symposium (Sunnyside Park Hotel, Johannesburg, South Africa)
Date: September 12th - 13th 2018.
Presenter: Christine Adu-Yeboah
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Pedagogical Innovation and Critical Thinking in HE: Evidence from Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Conference presentation: Centre for Education & International Development Annual Conference (UCL, London)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Pedagogies for Critical Thinking 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation made at workshop for deans of faculties and directors of higher education institutions, Botswana.
Date: 12 March 2019
Presenter: Richard Tabulawa
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Pedagogies for Critical Thinking in universities in Kenya 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation given by Mary Omingo to the Society for Research in Higher Education annual conference, Newport, Wales. In discussion with higher education researchers from elsewhere in the world, awareness raised of contextual issues relating to higher education in Africa and Kenya specifically, as well as cross-national debate around academic staff development in higher education.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Pedagogies for Critical Thinking: Innovation and Outcomes in African Higher Education 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited presentation made by Tristan McCowan and Richard Tabulawa at the University of the Free State, South Africa, attended by researchers and graduate students of the university. There was considerable interest generated in research during the meeting, and the critical debate ensued on the role of universities in developing critical thinking. Requests for further information about research were received, and there were discussions within the university about adaptations to their curriculum.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Reforming pedagogy to support the development of critical thinking in Ghana, Kenya and Botswana: The challenge of changing faculty identities, motivations and behaviours 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Conference presentation: Society for Research into Higher Education (Newport, South Wales)
Date: December 5, 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Stakeholder meeting, Accra 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A stakeholder meeting was held to launch the project in Ghana. Participants included those involved in coordinating teaching and learning activities in universities, policymakers (particularly those involved in quality assurance) and lecturers, and were predominantly from Ghana. The aims of the meeting were to introduce our research project, demonstrate the importance of work for enhancing quality of higher education in Ghana, and elicit the support of the participants. Those attending were invited to engage directly in the research, or alternatively to utilise the findings at a later stage of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Stakeholder meeting, Gaborone 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A stakeholder meeting was held to launch the project in Botswana. Participants included those involved in coordinating teaching and learning activities in universities, policymakers (particularly those involved in quality assurance) and lecturers, predominantly from Gabarone. The aims of the meeting were to introduce our research project, demonstrate the importance of work for enhancing quality of higher education in Botswana, and elicit the support of the participants. Those attending were invited to engage directly in the research, or alternatively to utilise the findings at a later stage of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Stakeholder meeting, Nairobi 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A stakeholder meeting was held to launch the project in Kenya. Participants included those involved in coordinating teaching and learning activities in universities, policymakers (particularly those involved in quality assurance) and lecturers, predominantly from Kenya. The aims of the meeting were to introduce our research project, demonstrate the importance of work for enhancing quality of higher education in Kenya, and elicit the support of the participants. Those attending were invited to engage directly in the research, or alternatively to utilise the findings at a later stage of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Strathmore University teaching and learning strategy meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Monday 25th February, 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Teaching for Critical Thinking: Pedagogical innovation at universities in Kenya, Ghana and Botswana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Presentation given by Rebecca Schendel for the Programme Research Lead of the ESRC/DFID funded Raising Learning Outcomes scheme at St. Antony's College, University of Oxford. The event was attended by researchers and graduate students, raising awareness of the innovative research design adopted by the project and the initial findings. The talk is being made available via videolink on the Oxford Comparative Education website.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description The crucial role of faculty teaching orientations in pedagogical reform: Evidence from Ghana, Kenya and Botswana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Conference presentation: Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of Southern Africa (HELTASA) - Nelson Mandela University, Port Elisabeth, South Africa
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Transforming higher education pedagogy for critical thinking: Evidence from Ghana 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Conference presentation: British Association for Comparative and International Education (University of York)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description University of Nairobi teaching and learning strategy meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting with senior members of the university to present findings specific to their institutions, and discuss interventions and strategies arising, and future work coming out of the project.
Wednesday 27th February 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019