Challenges Assessing the Impact of Project-Based Learning on Critical Thinking Skills

J. Bryan Henderson, Scott Marley, M. Jeanne Wilcox, Natalie Nailor, Stephanie Sowl, Kevin Close

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The lack of a precise definition for critical thinking makes it difficult for educators to agree on specifically how critical thinking should be assessed. This study assesses the efficacy of an innovative university initiative designed to promote critical thinking through project-based learning (PBL). Over 400 students participated in a 2 × 2 factorial experiment including critical thinking items from both a widely used inventory as well as a new assessment designed to assess critical thinking in a more practical fashion. The authors’ novel critical thinking assessment breaks down critical thinking into construction and critique components, with results indicating that critique is more challenging for students, regardless of experimental condition. However, students specifically prompted for critique demonstrated more attempts at critique than their counterparts who did not receive a critique prompt. The results indicate a paucity of critical thought in general, suggesting multiple challenges for both the teaching and assessment of critical thinking skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-60
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2020


  • assessment
  • critical thinking
  • critique
  • project-based learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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