CT2 at a Glance

The Clemson Thinks2 (CT2) program, now in its 11th year, was initially developed by Clemson University as the Quality Enhancement Plan for the university's 2013 reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).  One of the many unique features of CT2 is its equal emphasis on developing faculty critical thinking pedagogical skills and student critical thinking skills. CT2 realized a long-held ambition in December, 2019 with the first Clemson Thinks2 Graduate Teaching Institute (GTI). The GTI, modeled after our successful Faculty Institute, is a two-day intensive workshop devoted to developing teaching assistant (and future faculty) pedagogical skills.

Clemson Thinks2 Goals and Outcomes

The overarching goal of Clemson Thinks2 is to enhance the university’s pedagogy and curriculum in a way that enables measurable improvement in students’ critical thinking skills and abilities to apply those skills in a variety of academic and non-academic contexts.

We envisioned that student learning would take place at multiple levels: in CT2 curricular seminars in which students enrolled, as students applied critical thinking skills in upper-division courses in their majors, and as students applied these skills during engagement experiences such as internships, service-learning projects, and undergraduate research.

The stated student learning outcomes for the program are that students demonstrate the ability to:

  1. explore complex challenges
  2. analyze multi-dimensional problems
  3. extrapolate from one conceptual context to others
  4. synthesize alternative solutions to multi-dimensional challenges
  5. communicate effectively complex ideas.

The explicit goals specific to the CT2 seminars are three-fold:

  1. Through their participation in Clemson Thinks2, students will develop university-level competence at the activities that characterize critical thinking.
  2. Through their participation in Clemson Thinks2, students will describe the specific activities that characterize critical thinking and to reflectively report on their own use of these tools.
  3. Students will apply critical thinking skills to solve problems that occur outside the academic classroom.

Evolution and Impact of the CT2 Faculty Institute

Our initial plans included holding two Faculty Institute sessions per year, but it became apparent early on that devoting our resources – especially faculty and staff time, on-campus space, and availability of outside consultants – to one Institute per year allowed us to have sessions that were more impactful. Evaluations provided by our colleagues attending the Faculty Institute showed that they preferred:

  • more emphasis on pedagogical techniques and less on theory;
  • more time for interaction with other participants ;
  • more time to think and work on their own prior to the start of the fall term.

The Faculty Institute was initially held for eight hours on four consecutive days in June, but adjustment of the timeline to three consecutive days in June and one day in August proved effective.

Figure 1 and Table 1 show the quantitative impact of the Faculty Institute. By 2015, the numbers of faculty participating had swelled to 36 and our post-Institute evaluations showed that the quality of the desired academic community was in jeopardy. For 2016 and after, we worked to limit the attendance to approximately 25, which had a positive effect on increasing faculty engagement and collegiality. In all, 200 faculty have participated, and these numbers include faculty from all seven academic Colleges, comprising approximately 13% of the total Clemson faculty. Clemson Thinksappealed widely to our faculty not only in liberal arts areas, but also in business, STEM, and professional disciplines, which is appropriate to our University mission and student demographics.

Figure 1:


(2013-2018: colleges underwent reorganization after 2018)

Table 1:

Faculty Institute by Year

Number of Clemson Faculty in CT2 Faculty Institute, by Year

Note: A few faculty members attended the Institute more than once, in order to work through incorporation of critical thinking pedagogy in additional courses.

Syllabus Review

One of the primary exercises and assessments at the Faculty Institute is the revision of a syllabus to reflect the participant’s assimilation of the principles and pedagogical techniques of critical thinking. By year three of our CT2 program (2015), we had developed and found effective a three-fold syllabus review process:

  1. The faculty member submitted a syllabus for a class they had previously taught before the beginning of the Institute each June.
  2. The faculty member then submitted a revised syllabus in July, linking course content and assignments to the CT2 student learning outcomes. This revised syllabus was scored by a panel of three Faculty Scholars and the Director.
  3. The scores and comments were returned to the faculty member at the August meeting and a final, revised syllabus addressing the suggestions was submitted by mid-September (or earlier if the CT2 course were being taught that semester).

This method of peer review of teaching materials is a national best practice (NILOA, 2018) and reflects evidence of teaching effectiveness according to the Clemson University Faculty Manual (Clemson University, 2018a). Table 2 presents the results of the syllabus review from 2015 through the present.

table 2

Note: The percentages are based on the overall score of each syllabus. The individual criteria evaluated included: stated course student learning outcomes, alignment with CT2 student learning outcomes, discussion of critical thinking, discussion of CT2, CT2 pre- and post-tests discussed, CT2 pedagogical methods discussed, CT2 artifacts discussed.

Curricular Impact: Quantity and Disciplinary Breadth of CT2 Classes

As a result of strong emphasis on faculty development, Clemson has seen growth in the number of critical thinking-infused courses offered. (See Figure 2.) An increase from 33 courses in our initial year to 133 in year five is quite significant, and the increase was steady, even if we did not reach the numbers originally projected. The courses represented in Figure 2 represent 36 disciplines with a total enrollment of 4802 students. The original plan called for sophomore-level classes, but strong interest across multiple departments allowed us to impact curriculum more broadly, from typical first-year courses through graduate level coursework.

Figure 2:


Figure 2. Number of CT2 Classes by Year. Although the actual number of courses is slightly lower than the number originally projected, the growth of the program has met or exceeded the original growth rate.

How CT2 Impacted Student Learning Goals and Outcomes and Student Critical Thinking Skills

Students enrolled in CT2 courses take a California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) pre-test during the first week of the course and a post-test two weeks prior to the end of the course. We had originally planned for the post-tests to occur during the last week of the semester, but students indicated that they preferred the test earlier due to multiple end-of-semester commitments across their course loads. We also found that scheduling the CCTST as an “event” – where a guest (usually the Director) came to class for its administration – helped the students to understand the intentionality of its inclusion in their courses.

An analysis of the CCTST results from spring 2014 through spring 2018 can be seen in Table 3. Across every administration, the students showed an increase in their critical thinking performance from the beginning of the semester to its end. Our sample sizes were large enough that we could also analyze the data via paired sample t-tests, which showed that the improvements were not random.

Table 3. Results of California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) from students enrolled in CT2 courses.

table 3

*A paired sample t-test was performed to determine whether the mean difference between pre- and post-test results was significantly different from zero.  

Critical Thinking Artifact Evaluation

Every CT2 course includes assignments and/or activities performed by students as a demonstration of their achievement related to the student learning outcomes. These “artifacts” are assessed according to the AAC&U VALUE rubric for critical thinking (AAC&U, 2009). Results for CT2 artifact assessment of approximately 100 samples in 2017-2018 can be seen in Table 4.

table 4

Conclusions and related outcomes (implications and consequences)

*Note on scale: 4 = Capstone, 3 to 2 = Milestones, 1 = Benchmark, 0 = work that does not meet benchmark (cell one) level performance.

Student Perceptions of Teaching: Critical Thinking Questions

Clemson University has standard end-of-semester student perceptions of teaching forms used across all courses. We developed six questions for the CT2 program concerning students’ self-assessment of their growth in developing a critical thinking mindset. Results can be seen in Table 5. Overwhelmingly, students indicated that the critical thinking courses affected their growth in positive ways.

Table 5. Responses from End-of-Semester Student Perceptions Forms on CT2 Programmatic Questions, 2013-2018

table 5

Reflection: What Clemson Has Learned as a Result of CT2

Clemson Thinks2  has helped to transform many aspects of Clemson University, especially with regard to student critical thinking skills, faculty professional development, and the widespread use of high-impact pedagogical practices.

Faculty Reflections

The Clemson Thinks2 Faculty Institute has revolutionized the way faculty professional development takes place at Clemson University. The concept of Faculty Institute alumni returning to subsequent sessions to serve as presenters and mentors has proven to be a very effective means to diffusing critical thinking pedagogical skills and building interdisciplinary collegiality. The following are some comments by participants taken from the surveys given at the conclusion of the Faculty Institute:

  • I learned much about critical thinking, including its conceptualization and The institute was interactive, informative, and well-done overall. I'm much more excited and informed about deliberately emphasizing critical thinking in my classes.
  • I found almost all of the Institute to be very helpful and I came out of it even more enthusiastic (maybe even "evangelical") about the creation and dissemination of CT courses at CU.
  • The opportunity to examine my own thinking in a structured way, the chance to meet colleagues from other units and hear about their teaching, and the wealth of resources that I can take with me to keep working in my own teaching.
  • The presentations by faculty members for both the syllabi and the successes and failures were inspiring, engaging, informative, and impressive. I wish I had more opportunities at Clemson to hear about what faculty in other departments are doing. The presentations were all excellent in unique ways. Please tell all of the faculty who presented that I was impressed and inspired by what they have done!
  • The space to reflect critically about my own teaching methodology. I learned many teaching techniques that I look forward to incorporating in the classroom.

We have many faculty members that have offered classes under the aegis of CT2 for a full nine years, and the number of faculty offering CT2 courses grows every year. Some reflections of faculty who have been teaching at least one year in our program include:

  • I enrolled in the CT2 seminar with the expectation that it might improve my students’ experience in the classroom; actually, it may have improved my experience as an instructor even more.
  • I still have a lot of growing to do and I’m excited about the progress I’ve made. I’m immensely grateful to the CT2Faculty Institute and I hope to give back in whatever ways I can.
  • I am committed to teaching and fostering critical thinking in my courses.
  • After an insightful and productive year teaching critical thinking, I plan to return to it with expanded emphasis next academic year.
  • I intend to continue educating myself on the subject of critical thinking; observing and listening to the students I teach; and making changes to strengthen the teaching/learning process.

The Faculty Institute experience has helped to facilitate trans-disciplinary endeavors among many participants. This, of course, translates into richer, more fulfilling classroom experiences for the students. The dedication of our faculty and enthusiasm for the program exemplifies one of our mottoes: “Engaged Faculty = Engaged Students.”

The Clemson Strategic Plan & Future Faculty Development

The Clemson Thinks2 program has helped to bring about a wide awareness of critical thinking skills and their importance to student success. By far, the greatest impact of the Clemson Thinks2 program is on Clemson University’s 10-year strategic plan: ClemsonForward (Clemson University, 2018c). This strategic plan is built on four strategic priorities: Research, Engagement, the Academic Core and the Living Environment, easily remembered by the acronym REAL. Clemson Thinks2 served as the model for the Engagement aspect of ClemsonForward. Quoting from the strategic plan:

Student engagement was a cornerstone of Clemson’s previous strategic plan, and as a result, students now have a wide variety of opportunities that provide real-world, hands-on, problem-solving experiences, such as Creative Inquiry, ClemsonThinks2, service learning, cooperative education, the University Professional Internship Program and programs of the highly ranked Center for Career and Professional Development... Undergraduate students’ academic engagement through programs such as Creative Inquiry and ClemsonThinks2 allows students to be active participants in their own education. Student engagement is also one of Clemson’s core strengths. ClemsonForward will expand the engagement mission by folding it more deeply into the undergraduate curriculum and exploring the impact of engagement on student learning, achievement and outcomes.

The CT2 Faculty Institute model works well for Clemson faculty across multiple areas of the University. Clemson is a large institution with many accompanying complexities, but our faculty indicate that more opportunities for collaborative faculty development are much desired. As we move forward as an institution with incorporating other components of our ClemsonForward strategic plan – including general education re-envisioning, infusion of global learning in the curriculum, and improved levels of student engagement – the CT2 Faculty Institute model of collaborative and hands-on activities will be an important cornerstone on which to build.

Departmental Emphasis on Critical Thinking

The Clemson Thinks2 program emphasizes high-impact teaching practices and critical thinking throughout the University. Several departments — including Biological Sciences, Communications, English, Nursing, and Sociology — have made critical thinking skills central to their departmental curricular and assessment efforts.

This is reflected in the number of faculty from those departments that have participated in the Faculty Institute and is reflected in improved pedagogical intentionality within those departments.

Additional Benefits to Students

As seen from data discussed above, our students enrolled in CT2 courses showed an identifiable growth in critical thinking skills. Yet we believe that the emphasis on critical thinking across the University also benefited students not formally enrolled in these courses. A few anecdotes:

  • A previous survey created by Clemson University Student Government showed that a large majority of our students want more challenging courses, and CT2 courses are widely considered by students to deliver on that expectation.
  • For our Clemson seniors responding to the 2018 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), 88% indicated that they “very much” or “quite a bit” think critically and analytically.
  • Clemson’s award-winning Center for Career and Professional Development has incorporated the tenets of critical thinking into their core competencies used for students across the entire campus (Clemson University, 2019).
  • The CT2 Director offers critical thinking workshops each semester through the Academic Success Center, and these are open to all students and quite well attended. 

Clemson University has learned, as a result of the Clemson Thinks2, that an intentionally designed critical thinking program can have positive effects on students. Further, we have learned that a well-structured and continuously improved faculty professional development program can yield positive results not only for faculty pedagogical skills, but also for enhanced faculty engagement and enthusiasm. CT2 has enhanced trans-disciplinary interaction and cooperation, opening up new vistas for course development and energized faculty.

Clemson University has continued CT2 as a permanent program at the University. In December, 2019 we realized our ambition to offer a Graduate Teaching Institute (GTI): a two-day, intensive critical thinking workshop for graduate teaching assistants. The Clemson Thinks2 program, in collaboration with the Clemson University Press, is working on a critical thinking pedagogy handbook for higher education faculty. Other plans include utilizing the expertise of the CT2 Faculty Scholars to serve as mentors and round-table leaders for other faculty development needs of ClemsonForward. Clemson Thinks2 has truly created a community composed of faculty, staff, students, and administrators dedicated to critical thinking.

 Faculty Institute 2018 Group Photo

Clemson Thinks2 Faculty Institute 2018