Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts

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By Peter Facione

The Delphi Method

The panel of experts we keep referring to included forty-six men and women from throughout the United Statesand Canada. They represented many different scholarly disciplines in the humanities, sciences, social sciences, and education. They participated in a research project that lasted two years and was conducted on behalf of the American Philosophical Association. Their work was published under the title Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction. (The California Academic Press, Millbrae, CA, 1990). You may download the executive summary of that report free. Visit

You might be wondering how such a large group of people could collaborate on this project over that long a period of time and at those distances and still come to consensus. Good question. Remember we’re talking the days before e-mail. Not only did the group have to rely on snail mail during their two-year collaboration; they also relied on a method of interaction, known as the Delphi Method, which was developed precisely to experts to think effectively about something over large spans of distance and time. In the Delphi Method a central investigator organizes the group and feeds them an initial question. [In this case it had to do with how college level critical thinking should be defined so that people teaching at that level would know which skills and dispositions to cultivate in their students.

The central investigator receives all responses, summarizes them, and transmits them back to all the panelists for reactions, replies, and additional questions.

Wait a minute! These are all wellknown experts, so what do you do if people disagree? And what about the possible influence of a big name person?

Good points. First, the central investigator takes precautions to remove names so that the panelists are not told who said what. They know who is on the panel, of course. But that is as far as it goes. After that each experts’ argument has to stand on its own merits. Second, an expert is only as good as the arguments she or he gives. So, the central investigator summarizes the arguments and lets the panelists decide if they accept them or not. When consensus appears to be at hand, the central investigator proposes this and asks if people agree. If not, then points of disagreement among the experts are registered.

We want to share with you one important example of each of these. First we will describe the expert consensus view of the dispositions which are absolutely vital to good critical thinking. Then we will note a point of separation among the experts.

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