(research-based) Ways of Thinking and Practicing in Biology and History: Disciplinary Aspects of Teaching and Learning Environments
A question can be asked of every sector or level of education which seems both straightforward yet fundamental: what is it that the students learn as a result of their experiences? And in higher education, where participation is optional rather than compulsory and where there is not a set curriculum but a superabundance of subject areas and course combinations that transmute in countless ways from one university to another, the question becomes a particularly salient one. A common form of response to it has been to stay clear of the tricky waters of subject and course differences, making much broader reference to the role of higher education in instilling distinctive ‘habits of mind’, ‘modes of thought’, skill in reasoning and questioning, or perhaps most commonly of all, in the development of students’ capacity for ‘critical thinking’ (see for example Barnett, 1997; Hagedorn et al., 1999; Olson & Torrance, 1996; Trow, 1998). Yet as Middendorf and Pace have recently observed, attempting to base efforts to enhance students’ learning on such waymarkers are likely to be frustrated because of an inherent mismatch between the kinds of thinking which are actually called for in specific course and disciplinary settings and “generic formulas for encouraging higher-order thinking” (Middendorf & Pace, 2004, p. 1).