Reflections on the Impact of the ECTLs Critical and Creative Thinking Programming on Student Learning

Alyssa Konesko, Assistant Lecturer, LeaRN


I’ve tried to begin this reflection so many times. I tried it with colorful and descriptive language, a lovely narrative, you name it. The takeaway- it has been difficult to put into words how valuable I have found the Elbogen Center for Teaching and Learning. Coming from an education background, I know a bit about teaching, student success, and student learning outcomes. One would think that with my background, I would have tapped into the fact that even though I knew “a bit”, there was so much more than “a bit” to learn. 

In the fall of 2019, I applied and was accepted to take part in a faculty learning community led by Allison Gernant, TK Stoudt, and Meg Van Baalen-Wood. This learning community focused on the student learning outcomes of the USP first year seminar classes as well as how to look at said outcomes through the lens of critical thinking. This FLC, in a manner of speaking, blew my mind/ allowed me an “aha!” moment/ gave me new and exciting perspectives. This was the beginning of significant change not only in the way I taught my first-year seminars, but also how I went about designing my FYS courses, taking into consideration my new view on the learning outcomes. I found that the six learning outcomes aligned with creative and critical thinking almost explicitly and adjusted my curriculum accordingly. 

After this FLC (part of which was online due to COVID in 2020), I was fortunate enough to continue growing as an educator by taking part in an ECTL book club. The book club focused on the book America’s Critical Thinking Crisis: The Failure and Promise of Education by Steven J Pearlman. Taking what I learned in the yearlong FLC the previous academic year, I was excited to participate and discuss these ideas more. The discussions were enlightening, challenging, and engaging. My small group, led by TK Stoudt, was encouraged to talk about what we took from the chapters as well as challenge those ideas as well. I appreciated that I was allowed to challenge the book, and to my delight, the author of the book was able to zoom in and chat with us about our concerns and questions.  

I took a lot from this book group- especially the words that spoke to problems instructors had with students. The book and discussion spoke to the way the student mind works, talking about students wanting lectures like a smoker wanted cigarettes. The students didn’t want lectures, but it was what they knew and were comfortable with. It allowed them to stay in their comfort zone but did not engage them as fully as possible. 


After this book club, I was invited by Meg Van Baalen- Wood and TK Stoudt to take part in a small “think-tank” critical thinking group that also included my colleague, Catherine Johnson. Along with this small, but incredibly talented group of educators, we have met monthly since the spring of 2021. These wonderful colleagues assisted me in re-designing my summer first year seminar. They were my sounding board and safe place by which to run crazy ideas. 

The ECTL then offered (in the spring of 2022) a critical and creative thinking reading group, in which I also took part. The articles and discussion in this group continued to fuel my hunger for not only learning about critical thinking but also the idea of transfer- how students would continue to use the skills from my first-year seminar in future classes. Transfer was something that I thought about in an abstract sense- often talking about the student learning outcomes and how students would continue to master these skills indefinitely for the duration of their college career- but never in a concrete way. This group led me to the realization that I needed to not only talk to students about transfer, but also have them engage in thinking about how these skills would help them, individually, as they continued here at the University of Wyoming.  


I must admit, I have attended many other sessions through the ECTL that have been both enlightening and challenging. As instructors, I feel that we should always be seeking information and knowledge. We should be lifelong learners and practice what we preach to our students. I’m grateful for the ECTL and the constant programs that are offered to help the educators and the University of Wyoming. What a fantastic resource we have in our own backyard! 



Reflections from First-Year Seminar Students 

 Question: Have your thoughts about critical thinking changed? 


They have. Before this class i thought i was critically thinking and to a point i think i was, however not as in depth as what we have learned. There is a lot to uncover with thinking this way and personally it is a lot of fun to over think. So much has changed in general other than this class, new people and learning campus as well as how to think like a college student. All those ideas have changed now that I am part of each of those groups.


My thoughts on critical thinking have changed tremendously because I finally figured out how I critically think and why I should critically think about my day to day life. I used to think critical thinking was just deciding what is good for me but I have found out that critical thinking is a lot more than that and a lot more complex in many ways other than just one. 


When I first started this class, I thought critical thinking was a decision you had to make in moment’s notice. When someone says “it’s critical” I think that the situation might be time sensitive. I realize now that this is not always the case. I think now that critical thinking is used every day and every moment of the day. I really think that it is a broad subject, and it can be applied in many ways.


At the beginning of this course, I had no idea what critical thinking was or how to apply it to my life in general. Once I started learning about the topic I did have a very closed mindset about it. I thought there was one right way or answer to critical thinking but as the weeks went on, I discovered differently. I discovered that critical thinking can be applied to anything and I can do it in many different ways. I understood the beginning concepts allowing me to discover more about topics I didn’t know before


My thoughts about critical thinking have changed since beginning this class. Before this class I would not focus on critical thinking or how I think at all in fact. Now I am much more aware of critical thinking. I think critical thinking is an essential part of daily life and that it should be applied to my everyday thinking. 


My thoughts about critical thinking have really changed. I think that it is an essential day to day practice that I need to not take for granted. My critical thinking needs to be authentic, open-minded and decisive, otherwise my thinking will go back to the way it was which was very inefficient. I appreciate that Alyssa was able to convey this information in a way that made me inspired to critically think through curiosity and through some way of making me believe in my self to critically think. It was very big of her to be able to use this method instead of being a person who could abuse this opportunity to inflate her own ego, I could for sure see others doing this but Alyssa did a great job at being a Leader instead of a boss. 


Before I came to college, I thought that I knew everything and that I was set to conquer the world. Once I arrived here, I realized that to not be true. At all. I knew how to think, but I didn’t know how to properly think and how to check my logic for flaws and downfalls. I didn’t know how to research properly or complicate my points, despite being in higher-level classes for years. The hardest thing for me, though, was learning about how I learn, and teaching myself how to do that because I always thought that I knew about how I learned and how I could teach myself, and I realized that was not the case. I always thought that I didn’t need to study because I could just retain the knowledge that I was taught, and that is not how I learn. Although I still don’t need to study, I did realize that I need to write the topic down, or else I will forget. 


Personally, I would have to say that my thoughts about critical thinking have not changed but my understanding of it has. Before I knew a short definition of critical thinking, but now I understand how, when, and why I should be thinking critically.


I have found that this class has forced me to think about things I never considered in the past. Critical thinking is very complex, I had never previously considered it as such but I had constantly been wanting to learn how to find unbiased content and go about it. I feel grateful for the opportunities I was given in this class, I have never felt so encouraged to formulate opinions from different sources and not be biased. I have constantly fallen into the rabbit hole of people's opinions but in this class, I was encouraged to utilize my critical thinking abilities I was unable/ too afraid to unlock.


There was no thought in critical thinking or very little for me, before coming to this class. This class made me open up my mind about the world and not be so closed minded. This class has legit made me think critically in my day to day life, and I thank you for that. 



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Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning

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