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Keywords:

  • critical thinking;
  • nursing education;
  • triangulation;
  • think aloud technique;
  • argument complexity;
  • reasoning

The development of an alternative method in the assessment of critical thinking as an outcome of nursing education

Rationale. Critical thinking is currently a highly valued educational outcome throughout the educational spectrum, but particularly so in relation to higher and professional education. Nursing education worldwide is also embracing the construct critical thinking as a desirable educational outcome, to the extent that some commentators refer to the importance of critical thinking in nursing as a given. The body of evidence relating to the impact that nursing education has upon the development of critical thinking is currently inconclusive. Many commentators claim that this may be because the instruments used in many studies are not sufficiently domain-specific.

Study aims. The primary purpose of this descriptive-illuminative study was to explore and develop an alternative domain-specific method for identifying critical thinking in student nurses’ reasoning processes.

Design. A longitudinal multimethod design incorporating across-method triangulation has been utilized for this purpose. Data collection from a group of student nurses involved the combination of the Watson and Glaser (1991) critical thinking appraisal test and a researcher developed think aloud technique incorporating a videotaped client simulation, a cognitive task and stimulated recall strategy.

Findings. Findings indicate no significant differences in pre and postprogramme Watson–Glaser mean scores. With regard to the think aloud evidence the sample consistently displayed evidence of reasoning that reflected an absolutist epistemology portraying limited evidence of critical thinking. In instances where more complex reasoning was demonstrated there was evidence to suggest that metacognitive strategies may contribute to this phenomenon.

Conclusions. The findings make a further contribution to the assessment of critical thinking and raise interesting challenges to future curriculum development in nursing education, assessment of learning and nursing practice.