Critical inquiry class helps prepare students for college life

Release Date: 9/27/2010

Clarksville, Ark. --- There are many reasons people go to college –- to get a better paying job, to be more qualified in your field, to help ensure a more secure future. But many students arrive at college not exactly sure how to make the most of their college experience, so Ozarks has a course for that too.

Critical Inquiry – or CI, as it’s called for short – is a required class for all incoming freshmen. The class focuses on developing and strengthening the basic skills students will need to succeed academically at the college level.

Dr. Rickey Casey, Executive Director of International Studies, covers an extensive list of practical issues in his classes. “In my class,” he said, “I teach the following: Budgeting skills, the dangers of credit cards, how to deal with test anxiety, how to prepare for tests, developing critical skills, note-taking techniques, accepting personal responsibility, discovering self-motivation, mastering self-management, time management, employing interdependence, gaining self-awareness, adopting lifelong learning, developing emotional intelligence, team building, and developing leadership skills.”

Regardless of the instructor, the course introduces the principles of critical thought and helps students develop the habits of critical thinking through a variety of methods and activities.

“I tend to emphasize the ‘critical’ part of Critical Inquiry,” said chemistry professor Dr. Bill Doria. “We have some in-depth discussions about controversial topics in our class, sometimes extending over two class periods.  Sometimes the students take the conversation in unexpected directions, and that makes for some thought-provoking discussions.”

With emphasis on close reading, careful listening, civil discourse, logical reasoning and application of these skills to real-world situations, this course helps prepare students for the work they will do in subsequent other classes.

And it can be a lot of fun. “One big activity that we do in my class is play paintball,” said chemistry professor Dr. Brian McFarland. “They have a really good paintball place in Dover that we go to, and they organize all sorts of team-building games to promote teamwork and interdependence. My kids always seem to enjoy it and get a lot out of it.”

Student social skills are also addressed. A variety of social activities, cultural events and community service outings help foster a connection with classmates, the school, and the community.

“In the past, my CI class has planned and hosted a hunger banquet for our community service project,” said sociology professor Dr. Jesse Weiss. “We also have created superhero alter-egos using Marvel.com and written papers about our ‘heroes’’ strengths and weaknesses (as reflections of their personality).  We go bowling. I take the class to eat out a couple times a semester.  I make the students keep food journal for a week to see how well they are eating. It all adds up.”

Phyllis Johnson, Assistant Professor of Business Education and Critical Inquiry enthusiast includes travel in her CI classes. “My class takes three trips away from the Ozarks’ campus,” she said. “Two are on Saturday so they do not have to miss any other classes – I am very strict about them coming to class. We go to Eureka Springs to tour and see the wild cat refuge – I want them to see how other folks donate their time and money. We also go to Petit Jean Park and hike down to the Angel Falls. The last trip is on a Thursday late in the afternoon to the Fort Smith Museum and to Miss Laura’s (a restored former bordello, now the Fort Smith Visitors Center and listed on The National Register of Historic Places) – and of course, we eat on these trips as well as at my home. I use the book to try to get them to see themselves and learn how they can make their own choices.”

Professor Johnson added she feels the best thing about the course happens when the students in the class bond, share a community service experience or a day’s outing, and begin to see college is okay after all. “But it is also serious – like trying to get them to truly understand ethical behavior – to truly try to understand another’s point of view, i.e., walk in their moccasins – to try to understand the course selection process from what is a credit to how many credits do I need to graduate to ‘what do you mean, I have to take that course?’ The course covers a lot of ground.”

Other activities include an annual canoe trip, a highway trash pick up project, the Christmas Angel Tree project, and mathematics professor Dr. Buddy Smith even includes cleaning a cemetery in nearby Lamar.

CI class is just one more thing that sets the U of O apart and prepares its graduates for success both here and in their future lives. As sophomore Dereana Pfeiffer put it, “Critical Inquiry class helped me establish my first friends on campus. We did everything together that semester, and that class helped us learn to work together in a group. It got me off on the right foot.”

CI class at a ropes course.

“Up and Over! – Students in Dr. Jesse Weiss’ Critical Inquiry class participate in a team-building exercise which involved getting everyone from one side of the rope barrier to the other. The course, which is required of all freshmen, focuses on developing and strengthening the basic skills students will need to succeed academically at the college level.”