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Kritisches Denken in Lehre und Forschung

Critical Thinking in Education and Research

“Critical thinking in science”—isn’t this expression a mere tautology? Science, it seems, is always about critical reflection, is always about inquiring and questioning things rather than taking them simply at face value. Or is this just an ideal? Daily practices may often look very different. There are numerous constraints such as economic needs, funding and time limits, peer pressure, and ethical concerns. These constraints often discourage efforts to critically assess the scientific methods employed, the concepts presupposed, and the conclusions drawn. What is meant by “critical” or “criticism” here is the opposite of what might be called “dogmatism” in the sense of using (without questioning) a fixed set of methods, concepts, examples, and thereby losing the ability to view things from a distance and from different angles.

The aim of the current project is to increase the awareness of the importance of critical reflection and to implement and exemplify it on an university level by means of special interdisciplinary courses. Critical thinking is not an auxiliary activity to be performed “after the fact”, but an integral part of good scientific practice. Critical thinking is something that has to be taught to students and fostered at the university level. It has to be practiced from an early stage and, maybe most importantly, it has to be practiced in relation to one’s own work. Critical thinking is also about being self-reflective and about being aware of other mindsets—as opposed to merely being nitpicky when it comes to the work of others.

It goes without saying that a historically informed critical reflection on concepts and methods could never be a substitution for science. However, omitting critical thinking in science comes with serious consequences for science and the whole of society.

Examples of specific courses:

Publications and interviews:

  • N. Sieroka, V.I. Otto, G. Folkers (2018): Critical Thinking in Education and Research—Why and How? Guest Editorial, Angewandte Chemie (International Edition) 57, 2018, S. 2-4.
  • N. Sieroka, V.I. Otto, G. Folkers (2018): Kritisches Denken in Lehre und Forschung – warum und wie? Gast-Editorial, Angewandte Chemie 130, 2018, S. 2-4.
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Kritisches Denken fördern in Forschung und Lehre. In: Philosophie aktuell, Blog-Serie des Swiss Portal for Philosophy, 22.10.2018
  • E. Kut, N. Sieroka, G. Folkers, V.I. Otto (2018): A New Course Fosters Critical Thinking on Pharmaceutical Sciences at ETH Zurich. Latest News, ChemMedChem, Dezember 2018.
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Wie lehrt man kritisches Denken? Interview für den Podcast Kritisches Denken.
  • V.I. Otto, E. Kut, N. Sieroka (2018): Wenn aus Fehlern Fährten werden. Bericht und Interview über "Critical Thinking" in der Lehre in: ETH News, 27.02.2018.
  • G. Schiltz, S. Frédérickx, N. Sieroka (2017): Close Reading of Science Texts with Online Annotations. Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on Computers in Education, ed. by W. Chen et al. New Zealand 2017.
  • M. Hampe, R. Wallny, N. Sieroka (2015): Was Physik-Studierende von Philosophen lernen. Bericht und Interview über "Critical Thinking" in der Lehre in: ETH News, 26.09.2015.
  • M. Hampe, R. Wallny, N. Sieroka (2015): Warum lernen wir das eigentlich? Interview in: Polykum (Studierendenzeitung der ETH), 8/2014-15, Juni 2015, S. 10-12.
  • N. Sieroka (2008): Tückenreiche Analogien. Interview in: connect (Alumni Magazin der ETH), Nr.15, November 2008, S. 8-9.
  • N. Sieroka (2008): Der Urknall regt die Fantasie an: Die Angst vor dem Experiment des CERN. In: Tagesanzeiger, 23.09.2008.
  • N. Sieroka (2008): Das CERN auf den Spuren Gottes? In: Horizonte, 14.09.2008.
  • N. Sieroka (2008): Die Grenzen des Wissens: Religion und Philosophie werden die neusten Forschungen überleben. In: bazkultur (Kulturmagazin der Basler Zeitung), 30.07.2008.

Related project: Knowledge Network Online Whiteboard (KNOW)

It is a strategic goal of many universities to promote critical and interdisciplinary thinking among students. In this context, various teaching formats are currently tested and established, with teachers from different disciplines working together. The starting point for the present project was the insight that learning success becomes more sustainable if students are made directly aware of this interdisciplinary interaction by directly following and reflecting on the process of knowledge production itself during the course. A timely implementation of such a goal inevitably points in the direction of an online platform that allows to integrate different media. The latter is central, since knowledge exists not only in propositional form (that is, in the form of sentences / texts), but is also generated by intuitions conveyed through images, sketches and designs.

The knowledge network online whiteboard KNOW is a simple yet powerful tool for collaborating in large groups and with different media, from text to pictures to videos. It replaces the linear data structures such as lists with a browser-integrated online whiteboard. At the same time KNOW makes it easy to publish content which is created directly in the browser.

The idea for KNOW derived from an interdisciplinary teaching project at the ETH Zurich where the aim was to combine the typically text-based work in philosophy with the more image-based work in architecture and to make the integration of different forms of knowledge directly visible and to reflect it with the students.

This project, which is currently funded by an ETH Innovedum Grant, is a collaboration between Lamm&Kirch (Leipzig/Berlin), Hannes Mayer (ETH Zurich) and Norman Sieroka (University of Bremen). For further details see