PURPOSE. There has been increased attention to the critical thinking (CT) abilities of optometry students. In the early 1990s the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) identified the teaching of critical thinking as a major objective of optometric education by the year 2000. In 1997 an optometry school in the southeastern United States adopted a five-year institutional strategic plan that included critical thinking as an educational goal. The purpose of this study was to find out if a difference existed in critical thinking characteristics of optometry students at different academic levels. Until this study an evaluation of the critical thinking attributes of optometry students in the United States has not been undertaken. METHOD. This study examines the critical thinking skills and disposition of students in the first and third years of optometry school. CT differences between gender are also examined. CT attributes were assessed by administration of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test and the California Critical Thinking Disposition Test. Student academic class level and gender are independent variables. Dependent variables include CT skills total scores and CT disposition total scores and their respective sub-test scores. Students' demographic information characterize subjects and answer study questions.
RESULTS. No overall differences were found for critical thinking skills and critical thinking disposition by academic class level or gender. No significant main effect for academic class, gender, or academic class-gender interaction was found for critical thinking skills or critical thinking disposition. No significant difference between academic level and total CT skills test scores and individual CT skills subtests were found. Significant differences were found for the total disposition score, open-mindedness, systematicity, and analyticity between academic classes. No measured student characteristics had an association with total CT skills or total CT disposition scores. Age and years of college were found to have a significant difference between student groups at different academic levels.
CONCLUSIONS. Results of this study lead to several recommendations regarding integrating critical thinking into the optometric curriculum: (1) Assess student CT abilities at the beginning of their educational program and reassess periodically, (2) establish a specially designated CT indoctrination course during a student's first academic term, (3) employ CT pedagogy in some courses during a student's first academic term, (4) continue CT pedagogy throughout a student's academic program, (5) integrate CT pedagogy into existing courses, (6) systematically monitor CT pedagogy, (7) encourage and support faculty member initiatives to teach CT in classroom, teaching laboratory, and clinical settings, (8) encourage and support a CT environment by exercising faculty member and administrator role modeling, and (9) encourage and support a CT environment by expecting student CT at all academic levels.