The critical and creative learner

Whilst at Plymouth University, you'll have plenty of opportunities to develop and practise your:

1. Specialist subject knowledge and expertise

Understanding how its knowledge can be applied in a broader context and how your learning can be transferred to new contexts. Building on the foundational principles and theories in your discipline, to the point where you eventually develop your own specific way of understanding it, potentially in a niche area.

2. Critical thinking

Developing your questioning, analytical, and problem-solving skills. Having the confidence and willingness to challenge theories, evidence and research in your field, being able to evaluate relevant strengths and weaknesses, put forward informed arguments, and reflect on your choices.

3. Creativity and enterprise

Recognising opportunities, being happy to experiment, take risks and make mistakes, and then learning from your experience. Considering things from unique perspectives by employing different methods of thinking and looking for and making new connections, both within and sometimes across discipline areas. 

4. Research skills and information literacy

Being curious and resourceful, identifying and accessing appropriate sources, practising effective information management, and using digital, communication and media technologies with professionalism and confidence. Being aware of how knowledge is generated through the various research methodologies and what implications each has on the validity and reliability of data, as well as how to go about planning and managing research projects, and the different ways findings can be presented.

5. Learning and study skills

Through continuous reflection, appreciating the multiple ways in which we gain and understand knowledge, being prepared to experiment with new approaches, sometimes taking risks and learning from mistakes. Being aware of how you learn and ‘learning to learn’ effectively.

How can I develop these attributes further?

  • Look at the reading lists for your modules and read around subjects; don’t just look for answers.
  • Identify and access the key journals in your field, check these regularly; or, even better, arrange email alerts for when new issues are out or specific topics are reported on.
  • Is your programme underwritten or accredited by a professional governing body or institute? If so, regularly visit their webpages to see what is going on in your field.
  • Look out for news articles in the wider media that might impact on your subject.
  • If PALS is running in your programme make sure you go to the PALS sessions, and think about becoming a PALS leader as you progress.
  • There are a number of books in the Library that talk about critical thinking in general, and some more specifically in relation to HE.  There might also be some that are just for your discipline. A good starting point is Cottrell’s Critical thinking skills, or Bowell & Kemp’s Critical thinking: a concise guide, and a slightly more advanced text is Wallace and Wray’s Critical reading and writing for postgraduates, which is just as good for the later stages of undergraduate study.
  • The Learning Development DLE page has some information about critical thinking as well as a study guide for it.
  • Make notes and reflect on your approach to research whenever you do it, so that you can look back at what went well and what could have been done better.
  • Look at what the researchers in your subject area are looking at and how they are conducting the research, show an interest in it and don’t be afraid to ask questions; most researchers are more than happy to talk about their work.
  • As your studies progress think carefully about, and work towards, the topic(s) you might want to focus on in your final year, this could be really helpful for your employment prospects in that area.
  • Identify what software programs can help you in your studies, writing and research, such as managing references, project management, handling data and statistical analysis, etc., and become familiar with these. Whilst it might take time to ‘get to know’ these programs they’ll often save time in the long-term.
  • Are you overly reliant on any specific forms of information, such as from the internet or from textbooks, do you always go to the same sources?  If so, try to make a conscious effort to explore information from other sources, such as e-journals.  
  • Experiment with alternative ways of doing things such as note-making, essay planning or revision, quite often we find that we are better suited to approaches we’ve never tried or considered before. It’s good to test these out early on in your studying so that by the time you’re getting towards the end of your programme you are working as effectively and productively as possible.
  • Reflect regularly on your progress, write this down, so that you can identify where you are feeling confident and doing well, and where you perhaps need to change things or try something new.

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