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Title: Critical thinking skills : a case study of the English Foundation Program at a Higher Education Institution in Oman
Author: Abasaid, M.
ISNI:       0000 0004 7970 451X
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2019
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Critical thinking is a key feature of the organizational cultures of higher education institutions, given its multiple impacts on graduates' academic, professional and personal levels. This holds true for the Arab Gulf region. Most of the region's higher education institutions' strategic plans state, implicitly and explicitly, objectives related to achieving critical thinking skills. Regrettably, most of the Arab world students' performance in international standardized aptitude tests, is below expectations. This was reflected in the results of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). One of the reasons for the Arab students' low performance is that such assessments need higher order of thinking skills, such as critical thinking. Consequently, education policy-makers, in the Arab Gulf region, are concerned about students' low performance in such assessments, despite the continuous reforms and the hefty budgets allotted to education. Therefore, different approaches that do not require heavy budgets and hard infrastructure reforms should be considered. Such approaches should focus on the transformative role of higher education, where the teaching of soft skills, like critical thinking, ought to be a priority. The purpose of this study is to investigate how the learning-teaching process in the English Foundation Program at the College, a higher education institution in Muscat, fosters critical thinking teaching. In view of this, a qualitative intrinsic case study fits well the exploratory and explanatory nature of this research, because it reflects on practicing professions and it investigates critical thinking in its natural context. The methodology examined four data sets in the English Foundation Program learning -teaching process. These data sets are the English Foundation Program textbooks, the College's strategic plan, in-depth semi-structured interviews with ten professors and a fifteen-student focus group interview of the English Foundation Program's four levels. Furthermore, Littlejohn's framework for analysing teaching materials and a qualitative thematic analysis, are both employed to investigate critical thinking in the English Foundation Program textbooks. A qualitative thematic analysis is applied to the other sets of text data, which are the College's strategic plan, the semi- structured interviews with the professors, and the focus-group interview with the students. Such analysis identifies the implicit and explicit themes related to critical thinking in the English Foundation Program learningteaching process. The constructed themes answered the posed research questions. It was found that there are implicit and explicit elements of critical thinking in the English Foundation Program textbooks and the College's strategic plan that could be enhanced. The English Foundation Program's professors have their own interpretations of critical thinking, but not for the concept's impacts outside classrooms. Such professors believe in the attainability of critical thinking and their role as facilitators enriching teaching the concept in their classrooms. Despite that, the English Foundation Program's professors openly referred to the disparity between their espoused beliefs and enacted practices, in terms of teaching critical thinking, because of their students' resistances. The students' perceptions of the concept concurred with their expectations of their College's learning- teaching process. The English Foundation Program high achievers expect to gain professional competencies, better academic performance, and personal growth. This research presents practical valuable pedagogical and institutional implications to enhance CT teaching and practice in higher education institutions in Oman and the other Arab Gulf states. Another contribution of this study is that it closely explores the English Foundation Program professors' and the English Foundation Program students' perceptions of critical thinking, two important areas that are unexplored. The study concludes with recommendations for further research, where such research should focus on the reasons for the disparities between espoused practices and enacted practices, in relation to critical thinking teaching. In view of this, the research refers to the importance of implementing Bloom's taxonomy, through the EFP textbooks, as an implication of practice to help address such disparity and to enhance CT teaching, where the language barrier is a major constraint. Furthermore, the study recommends educators and reformist, in the Arab Gulf region, to investigate students' low performances at higher education as an outcome of their pre-university education systems drawbacks.
Supervisor: Ferreira, Marco ; Kahn, Peter Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ed.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral