Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication Department


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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Human Sciences (Leadership Studies), Under the Supervision of Professor Gina Matkin. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2012

Copyright (c) 2012 Courtney E. Quinn


This study examined the role of critical thinking in regards to environmental ethical issues. First, an instrument was developed and validated to quantitatively measure students’ ability to apply critical thinking skills to various environmental ethical issues. Next, the instrument and a qualitative assessment were used to examine critical thinking capabilities of freshmen upon entry to a large introductory course. Last, the Environmental Ethics Critical Thinking Assessment, in conjunction with the qualitative assessment, were used to examine the change in critical thinking ability of all students in a large introductory course from pre to post-semester. In both studies, numerous antecedents to critical thinking were examined including critical thinking disposition, age, major, gender, previous courses taken on related subjects, self-rated strength of views, and self-rated leadership. Overall, students exhibited low levels of critical thinking. Both studies found gender and critical thinking disposition significant predictors of critical thinking skills. Qualitative analysis indicates that students improved their use of summarizing an author’s ideas in their own words, providing an example to help explain, comparing and contrasting diverging ideas, analyzing the structure of an argument, deriving plausible conclusions, discussing possible consequences, giving reasons to accept a claim, reflecting upon their own thinking, and identifying personal biases. However, all improvements were minimal and a large majority of students did not improve their use of critical thinking skills on a written assignment from pre to post-semester.

Advisor: Gina Matkin