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CRITICAL THINKING IN THE UNIVERSITY COURSES: AN EXPERIENCE LASTING MANY YEARS

M. Maiocchi

Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
In the past decades, the educational world has been progressively oriented to the capability of finding a job after the studies. In Italy, one of the common slogans was the “3I” (Inglese, Informatica, Impresa, i.e. English a “diplomatic language”, Informatics, as enabling knowledge toward the future and Enterprise, as a goal for the life). But in fact the schools reduced more and more ability to think critically, and provided knowledges useful for jobs that possibly will disappear before the end of the studies course.

This seems a general trend in all the school orders, with an amplification of the contents to be studied, a reduction of the deepness of the though and a growing focus on technical aspects, oriented to the future working life. In particular this happens in the universities, for which a first level lasting three years is oriented to professional capabilities, and second specialized level of two years should improve the capability of a critical thinking and put the basis for a deep understanding of the discipline (instead of putting the basis before the construction).

In the final year of the first level of the graduation course of Design at Politecnico di Milano (Design Bachelor’s degree) a course has been introduced with the title “Responsible Design”.

The title is due to the recognition of the strong responsibility designers have in projecting things that contribute to design the future world, but its content is not so much related to Design, but to the development of critical thinking.

The course is organized in four section, each of them regarding a specific topic, always presented in a critical way (e.g. present design vs arts, homologation and consumerism driven by sustainability slogans?, is today popular music chosen or imposed?, slow food or insects?, and so on).

Each topic is presented by two discussants, the former having the responsibility of the course and the latter as external expert of the subject; they present two contrasting positions, and the students must participate to the discussion. After the presentation, within a week, students have to build their own position, reporting it with the proper references and supporting it in a public discussion. Moreover, discussion tables are organized among students with different positions, to try a mediation, again publicly reported.

The course is one of the most successful of the entire graduation course (and not only) and, according to the position of the students, is strongly helpful to improve thinking and arguing capabilities.

It seems that for the first time along the university studies someone is asking the students to think.

The paper presents the placement of the course in years of the graduation, its organization, the discussed topics, which are the passive and active roles of the students and what they have to do, the criteria for the final evaluation of their work, the final farewell rite with the delivery of a book collecting all the contributions.

Thanks to the fact that the Politecnico di Milano collects evaluations and judgements on the courses, the thoughs of the students will be reported.