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From the Editor
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
During the recent US election cycle, many voters read several print and online articles, watched televised interviews and debates, and attended political events in order to learn about candidates’ positions. The abilities to interpret facts, weigh evidence, and think critically about the information garnered through these sources are necessary skills that allow us to make our best choices. Without these competencies, one can default to making important decisions by using what late-night television host Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness”—defined by dictionary.com as “the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence.” With important matters at stake such as determining local and national elected officials, it is essential that today’s college students graduate with highly developed evidence-based reasoning skills.
To support the goal of ensuring that all students develop evidence-based reasoning skills throughout their college careers, AAC&U launched its Scientific Thinking and Integrative Reasoning Skills (STIRS) project in 2012. In the Spring 2012 issue of Liberal Education, Richard Riegelman wrote, “Evidence-based problem solving represents an integrative approach to the application of scientific principles across the natural, behavioral, and social sciences…. Evidence-based problem solving can be an especially effective method for achieving the fourth LEAP Essential Learning Outcome: integrative and applied learning.”
The STIRS project has unfolded in several stages. First, dissemination of the STIRS framework, the project’s guiding principles, helped launch a national dialogue about models that integrate evidence-based thinking across general education and in the major. In 2014, thirteen STIRS Scholars were selected to create real-world, peer-reviewed case studies that would illustrate one or more of the original STIRS framework components. The STIRS case studies, which are available at no cost on the AAC&U website (https://www.aacu.org/stirs/casestudies), have been downloaded by several institutions of various types from across the country. In the most recent STIRS phase, five STIRS Fellows were selected to work with their institutions to incorporate the STIRS framework into thematic, scaffolded, four-year curricula that will culminate in capstones or signature work. As part of this work, the STIRS Fellows intend to develop a tool, using the VALUE rubrics, that will help educators assess student learning relative to evidence-based reasoning.
This issue of Peer Review features articles examining the many aspects of the STIRS project through a variety of lenses. AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella frames the issue by considering the necessity of evidenced-based problem-solving skills from both AAC&U and first-hand perspectives. Richard Riegelman offers a project overview, with particular attention to the STIRS framework and the competencies it outlines. Also included is an article written by several of the STIRS Scholars that describes the process by which the STIRS case studies were developed and another that discusses case study use. A piece written by the STIRS Fellows details the goals and implementation of the STIRS project’s institutionally based work. Finally, Terrel Rhodes’s Reality Check closes the issue with a meditation on encouraging higher education faculty and administrators to create the time for reflection as they build upon old and create new educational practices.
Rhodes’s call for educators to reflect—to slow down and to critically evaluate the options—is also wise counsel for students in a time when they are constantly being bombarded with news through traditional and social media. The need for students to develop the capacities promoted by the STIRS project—the abilities to use evidence effectively in problem solving and decision making—is key not only to their academic successes but also for all of our futures in a complex and volatile world.