Undergraduate Opportunities and Resources
Peer Learning Assistants are undergraduate students selected by the faculty member to facilitate teaching and learning activities that might otherwise be difficult for the faculty member to carry out by him/herself. Experience at other institutions and in several FYSs and other introductory level courses at Clark has shown that PLAs are most useful in facilitative roles, e.g. giving students feedback on early drafts of writing, leading small group discussions, working with individual students who are having difficulty, facilitating group project work (in or out of class), and/or facilitating online discussions on Cicada. Because they are undergraduates, as is the practice at Clark, PLAs do not grade student work, and they generally do not have the content expertise to serve as substitutes for graduate teaching assistants. PLAs are paid per hour from federal work-study funds or from other institutional funds, or some choose to take academic credit (e.g. independent study or directed reading) for their work. PLAs generally work about 10-15 hr/wk.
Also visit our extensive list of research opportunities for undergraduates at Clark and beyond for more opportunities and resources available to undergraduate students.
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Maximizing Your College Experience: Acquiring and Developing Critical Thinking Skills
One of the biggest differences between high school and college is the amount of responsibility you have for monitoring and managing your own learning experience. Throughout your college education you will be challenged by an intensive workload along with the numerous diversions you face while living in an environment with your peers. You can maximize your undergraduate learning experience by acquiring and developing the necessary skills for success in college and beyond. One invaluable skill that supports your overall learning experience is critical thinking.
What is critical thinking?
Critical thinking is a learned skill that helps you to process complex information. As a student, you are required to process and retain large amounts of "new" information. One of your primary tasks as an undergraduate is to sort through masses of material and identify key elements of an argument. Critical thinking is the skill that guides you through this process.
At its most basic level, critical thinking involves the mental processes of analyzing and evaluating information. Throughout college you are asked to demonstrate your comprehension through assignments that require you to examine evidence, formulate a conclusion, and explain your reasoning. As you develop your critical thinking skills you may be asked to gather your own evidence thorough observation, experience, reflection, or reasoning. Following the gathering and processing of this evidence, you must formulate and justify your conclusions. Critical thinking skills enable you to formulate effective arguments.
Why is critical thinking important?
Critical thinking is not simply about discovering the "right" answer. Critical thinkers use reasoning to understand how an argument was originally formulated and what the shortcomings of that argument might be. Critical thinking is an active process that goes beyond simplistic ways of understanding. It is a skill and a mode of processing information that allows you to thoughtfully and systematically interrogate an argument.
Students who cultivate their critical thinking skills learn to raise questions that are vital to the understanding of an argument. While gathering and assessing relevant information, students that are critical thinkers engage with abstract ideas in order to reach well reasoned conclusions or solutions to a problem. In addition, students who utilize critical thinking are able to recognize assumptions, implications and consequences of a particular argument. Their critical engagement with the material draws from a variety of available frameworks for analyzing and assessing a problem-set. In short, critical thinkers apply a self-disciplined and self-directed way of thinking. They incorporate rigorous standards of inquiry that result in the effective communication of potential approaches to solving a particular problem.
Appleby, D. The Covert Curriculum: The Lifelong Learning Skills You Can Learn in College. In Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 28-31, 34), Chattanooga: Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. (2001).
Hettich, P. I. Learning skills for college and career (2nd edition). Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole (1998).
For more information about developing critical thinking skills, the following resources are available at the CETL library:
Brookfield, S. Developing Critical Thinkers: Challenging Adults to Explore Alternative Ways of Thinking and Acting. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc. Publishers. (1987).
Kurfiss, J. Critical Thinking: Theory, Research, Practice, and Possibilities. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No.2. Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education. (1988).
Paul, R. Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Surrvie in a Rapidly Changin World (2nd edition). Sonoma State University: Foundation for Critical Thinking. (1992).
Peer Advisor Training
Student orientation workshop on plagiarism (not covered in the session, but requested by attendees)