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One of the primary goals of an educator should be to help students develop the desire and ability to think on their own. Independent thinking is the desire of a person to convince oneself that the information being presented is true or reasonable. This differs from critical thinking, which is the process used to collect and process information to arrive at a logical conclusion. In other words, independent thinking has more to do with the desire to think for oneself and critical thinking is the process used to deal with information.
Dependant thinkers uncritically accept whatever they are taught and rarely question information or asking themselves if the information really make sense. Independent thinkers feel the need to make sense of the world based on personal observations and experiences rather than just going along with the thoughts of others.
Independent thinking is always important, even in team exercises. Independent thinkers strengthen a team because they understand that different backgrounds and perspectives bring different ideas and solutions. They are willing to share ideas that differ from those of the rest of the team and sometimes require explanations that force the team to force the team to give careful consideration to information. Independent thinkers must be careful not to question everything or they can impede progress. However, when something seems wrong, or they don’t understand something, or they see a better way of doing something, they must have the confidence to voice their opinion.
It is not always easy task to influence students' thinking, but there are techniques an instructor can used to encourage independent thinking. During group discussions, the instructor can ask higher order questions instead of just direct recall or knowledge questions. This encourages the students to think on their own about concepts. Students can also be lead to be inquisitive of set theories and ask why things happen the way they do. On an individual basis, students can be asked to explain results, and defend conclusions. The instructor can also make sure that all students contribute to team brainstorming and problem solving sessions.
Teaching using these methods will likely cause some discomfort when students are truly challenged to apply their thinking ability. However, it is the discomfort that comes with being an active learner. Hunt (1971) explained that, "If the environment is perfectly matched to the developmental level of the learners, the learners are likely to be arrested at that level." Students must think on their own in order to reach the next level of learning. When students are active learners they are participating mentally and/or physically with their environment. Clough's (1999) research suggests that, "Even when students sit passively in a lecture, for learning to occur they must be mentally active-selectively taking in and attending to information, and connecting and comparing it to prior knowledge and additional incoming information in an attempt to make sense of what is being received." An instructor will know that he or she has been successful in fostering independent thinking when his or her class starts asking lots of questions.