Critical Thinking Is Not Discipline-Specific: Teaching Critical Thinking to the Beginning Design Student

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Tippey, Brett
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This paper will address the increasing burden being placed on university-level design education to teach critical thinking as paramount in the design process, not only during the formative years but also throughout the design curriculum. It will focus on teaching methods currently in place at Ball State University that are applicable across discipline-specific boundaries within the greater realm of design education. It will also propose new teaching methods to increase the beginning design student's ability to think critically. It appears that beginning design students enter our design programs--irrespective of discipline--with an increasing handicap: the inability to think critically. Current pedagogical models in secondary education seem to favor rote memorization and regurgitation of facts in an effort to improve test scores. While test scores may be on the rise, the great disadvantage of "teaching for the test" is that it incapacitates the students' successful acquisition and application of useful, practical and professional knowledge and it produces students who are, at best, nothing more than "fact containers." In order to produce students who command a knowledge base more profound than that of disconnected facts, we must teach them the process of critical thinking. Just as Heidegger states that learning is the fundamental activity of mortals; it is equally true that critical thinking is the fundamental activity of designers. In terms of design, critical thinking is the means by which designers observe, learn, analyze and make decisions. Indeed, as designers, we are charged with improving the quality of life of individuals and communities. Therefore, we must give our students the ability to analyze the design challenge, its situation and its possible implications and to propose appropriate solutions. We must also teach our students ways to skillfully critique design, both their own and that of other designers in an effort to continually improve their design skills. Pedagogical methods focused on critical thinking equip the student with the ability to make sound, logical and appropriate decisions and to formulate a viable design process that is applicable to the design professions for which we are preparing them. As a teaching method, critical thinking does not uniquely belong to any one field; rather it is a property shared by all design professions. It is equally useful and necessary in fields as diverse as architecture, graphic design, interior design, landscape architecture, industrial design, urban design and all forms of engineering. This paper will focus on pedagogical methods that are mutually applicable to the different design disciplines and will present the successes and failures of attempts currently utilized at Ball State University's College of Architecture and Planning to teach critical thinking to beginning design students in the specific fields of architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. It will discuss curriculum design and exercises tailored to teach critical thinking as well as curriculum delivery, including innovative teaching formats such as immersive learning, student-to-student critiques, iterative instruction and teaching students correct ways in which to form opinions. It will investigate the similarities and differences of approach to teaching interdisciplinary critical thinking to beginning students in graphics, design and theory courses. It will also propose new methods that could augment the current methods and give the students an even stronger ability to think critically.
Ball State University
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