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Critical Thinking Skills Initiative for Community College Students

In community colleges, teaching information literacy is a powerful intervention for improving student retention, graduation rates and employability. Increasing these students’ opportunities for higher education, career training and lifelong learning is the goal of The CUNY Critical Thinking Skills Initiative (CTSI), a pilot program of information literacy and digital communication coursework and employer engagement that was launched this September with support from the Verizon Foundation.  

The initiative’s two courses, designed by professors from La Guardia Community College and the CUNY Online B.A. Program, are being taught to an initial cohort of 59 students from LaGuardia, Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges. Digital Information in the Contemporary World (COM 110, 3 credits), being taught by the CUNY Online B.A.’s Professor Kate Moss, instructs students in new communications technologies with coursework—including readings, online discussions, group blogs, and collaborative final projects.  The course is designed to lead students through an examination of the impact of these technologies on contemporary understandings of identity and community. Internet Research Strategies (LRC 103, 1 credit), being taught by LaGuardia’s Professors Ann Matsuuchi and Steven Ovadia, explores effective research strategies for finding reliable information on the Internet, including lessons on how to formulate and modify a search strategy, investigate the theory behind the search process and critically evaluate online sources based on appropriate criteria. In both courses, professors instruct and communicate with students by means of online tools including live online discussions, CUNY’s Blackboard discussion board, group blogging, and wiki tools, among others.

As part of the initiative, enrolled students will participate in a pre- and post-course Educational Testing Service iSkills™ Assessment, which will evaluate the impact of teaching information literacy on improving critical thinking skills. The first of these examinations was administered in early September. Also as part of the initiative, each student received a netbook at the beginning of the semester to encourage completion of coursework. Students who successfully pass their online course and complete the ETS post-course iSkills Assessment will be eligible to keep their netbooks.  Those students who receive a passing score on ETS’s iSkills Assessment will receive a CUNY/iSkills certification, a recognized and valued credential for potential employers.

As part of the initiative, New York City employers are being contacted in order to promote the importance and desirability of hiring graduates with proven information literacy and critical thinking skills.

We expect CTSI to make a direct contribution to the development and growth of information literacy programs. With necessary funding, the initiative will be piloted over a three-year period from 2011-2014, in order to research, implement, and validate the program for future roll-out on a broader scale throughout CUNY and beyond. Contingent upon funding, other CUNY colleges will be encouraged to adopt the program or replicate its methodology. The courses may also be offered through CUNY’s continuing education programs and thereby reach a broader audience.  Once the pilot is complete, the initiative has plans to approach the New York City business community to offer the courses as a way for employers to help their employees develop core 21st century information literacy skills.

For more information about the CUNY Critical Thinking Skills Inititative, please contact Program Manger Barbara Carrel (Barbara.carrel@mail.CUNY.edu).

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