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Critical Appraisal

A yellow caution left turn sign
The frame on this sign tells you a lot about its authority [it’s official], its purpose [it’s a warning], and it’s practical use [you should slow down].
So on Monday I posted about the Magical Power of the Reference , and @DiBlackmore1 asked on Twitter, ‘But what about critical appraisal?’  My first response was, ‘Critical appraisal is only done for a tiny fraction of the books in your Bibliography. References used this way frame that, and extend it.’  Yet, as I thought more about it, I came to the conclusion that one needs to think about what one is framing in order to design a good frame… with that in mind, I’m crafting this!

Critical thinking has been much in my mind recently. 

I just designed a new workshop on Critical Thinking for Academic Skills, which we expected to be full of first year Arts students grappling with their first essay assignment. Instead, it was full of medical students.

A few days before, a colleague had circulated a link to CASP–a UK based cricical appraisal skills program (you should totally go and check it out) that claims to:

 enable individuals to develop the skills to find and make sense of research evidence, helping them to put knowledge into practice

Using critical appraisal to acheive evidence based practice is a great skill–and I’d love to hear people’s views on it.

Pretty, swirly, art nouveau frame with stylised flowers.
This frame demarates the ‘art work’ from the surrounding white space, while itself functioing as a piece of art, and encroaching on both the picture and the surrounding space. It signals its position as a particular work [a piece of visual art], from a period [c.1920], and belonging to a school [Art nouveau].
When we look at scientific research, or social scientific research, critical appraisal means:

the use of explicit, transparent methods to assess the data in published research, applying the rules of evidence to factors such as internal validity, adherence to reporting standards, conclusions and generalizability. (Thank you Mr Wikipedia)

When we look at qualitative research though, particularly when we look at disciplines like Literature, Musicology, Theology or Philosophy, it becomes much more difficult to achieve.  Critical analysis may involve critical faculties, and there are definitely ways to get it wrong–but, as I often tell my students

There are no right answers.  There are some wrong answers, and lots of good answers, and some better answers. That is all.

Those two kinds of close appraisal or analysis of the data are therefore going to lead to very different kinds of pictures, and those two pictures are going to need to be framed in different ways.  In science, that reference ‘frame’ is going to be doing something different from what it’s doing in arts.

This is a musing, a discussion, a seed, a metaphor than needs development–but there’s a new critical thinking ‘staircase’ coming next week that is going to rescue your argument!

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