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2nd International Academy on Critical Thinking (Oxford 2008)

Please join us at...

The Oxford Tutorial & Critical Thinking
New College, Oxford University, England
September 3-6, 2008

This event has concluded.
Thank you to all who attended!


The Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking have together hosted critical thinking academies and conferences for more than a quarter century. We will bring our second academy to the UK September 3-6, 2008. The International Academy on Critical Thinking is designed for collegiate and pre-collegiate educators, lead faculty, teachers, headmasters, and academic administrators. Research fellow Rush Cosgrove, together with Richard Paul and Linda Elder, are designing the Academy.


David Palfreyman
David Palfreyman
, Bursar and Director of Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies (OXCHEPS), New College, University of Oxford.
Richard Paul

Richard Paul
, Fellow and Director of Research, Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Ted Tapper

Ted Tapper
, Emeritus Professor of Politics, University of Sussex, Visiting Scholar, Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, New College, University of Oxford.
Linda Elder

Linda Elder
, Fellow and President, Foundation for Critical Thinking.
David Mills

David Mills
, University Lecturer, Higher Education, Pedagogy and Social Sciences, Kellogg College, University of Oxford.
Gerald Nosich

Gerald Nosich
, Professor of Philosophy, Buffalo State College, and Fellow, Foundation for Critical Thinking
Rush Cosgrove

Rush Cosgrove
, Research Fellow, Foundation for Critical Thinking, Graduate Student, New College, University of Oxford.

Among the Oxford educators invited to present, include David Palfreyman, David Mills and Ted Tapper. In addition, Robert Beck will be joining Gerald Nosich, Richard Paul, Linda Elder, and Rush Cosgrove,  fellows from the Foundation for Critical Thinking.  The Academy will take further shape as we flesh out potential issues and finalize our preparations.

The first half of the Academy will concentrate on theoretical issues. The second half will focus on the development of practical strategies for the design of instruction. The Academy will explicate the nature of the Oxford Tutorial as it relates to critical thinking, and the nature of critical thinking as it relates to the Tutorial.  The concept of critical thinking presented by Foundation fellows will be minimalist, substantive, and comprehensive. By 'minimalist' we mean that it will focus on those dimensions of critical thinking that are unarguable.  By 'substantive'  we mean a conception of critical thinking that is trans-disciplinary (and hence does not privilege the approach to critical thinking of any single discipline such as philosophy, psychology, or rhetoric). By 'comprehensive' we mean that all major dimensions of critical thinking are dealt with: the elements of thought, the universal standards of thought, and the traits of mind (of a fair-minded thinker).  A fourth way to characterize the conception of critical thinking advanced by the fellows of the Foundation is that it is ROBUST ( both theoretically and practically).


The International Academy is designed for educators and administrators who seek to move beyond fundamentals to advanced understandings and strategies. The Academy is designed to help participants improve their comprehension of critical thinking and their ability to design instruction in such a way that students increasingly come to employ critical thinking as their main tool of learning.


The Academy will focus on how to understand instruction, and so design it, that students become intellectually engaged in thinking within the disciplines they study.

Seminars will run from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm each day. Delegates will be engaged in actively discussing theoretical and practical issues with the presenters, some of which will be present through-out the Academy.

Delegates from previous academies are welcomed back, to deepen their understanding of critical thinking. The academy will offer the means to achieve greater depth of understanding of critical thinking concepts and principles and their application to curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

The Oxford Tutorial

One important set of questions the Academy poses is: What can we learn from studying the manner in which “tutorial” and “supervisory” roles are exercised in classic forms of Oxbridge tutor/student teaching and learning?  Is the essence of the tutorial, that which gives it its unique power, found in its outward form (particularly in its one-on-one faculty/student ratio), or are there ways to appropriate some of its essential strength, in alternative arrangements less labor intensive, less costly, but (financially and academically) more doable for institutions with less funding, and possibly less talented students?”  

We hypothesize that there is a significant convergence between the best practices of the classic Oxford Tutorial and the "model" of teaching for critical thinking constructed, over the last 20 years, by the Foundation for Critical Thinking fellows. This suggests the further hypothesis that the "essence" of what makes the Tutorial powerful can be usefully "exported" into larger group settings. Here are some suggested common denominators:

We posit that both traditional Oxford Tutorial and emergent Critical Thinking approaches emphasize:

  • Teaching with a Socratic Spirit (teaching that emphasizes the student taking ownership of content through actively thinking it through). In this mode of teaching, the inquiry  process is more important than the answer, while rote memorization is accorded little

  • Teaching with intellectual standards (students are expected to adhere to clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, and significance in their academic discourse). In this mode of teaching, intellectual discipline and rigor is expected and fostered.

  • Teaching that encourages students to identify key structural components in thinking (purposes, questions at issue, information and data, inferences and interpretations, concepts and theories, assumptions and presuppositions, implications and consequences, points of view and frames of reference).

  • Teaching that requires students to read, write, listen, and speak (critically).

  • Teaching that is dialogical (wherein the student learns to question the thinking of others and to expect his or her thinking to be questioned by others).

  • Teaching that encourages students to think for themselves while exercising intellectual humility and intellectual empathy.

  • Teaching that locates ultimate intellectual authority in evidence and reasoning, rather than in authority figures or “authoritative” beliefs or texts.


Under (well-designed) instruction for critical thinking and (well-designed) Oxford Tutorials, students learn how to analyze thinking, assess thinking, and re-construct thinking (improving it thereby). The thinking studied is that which is embedded in the content of established academic disciplines. As a result, students so taught become actively engaged in thinking historically, anthropologically, sociologically, politically, chemically, biologically, mathematically …

Through these processes, students learn how to read, write, speak, and listen in a new way (critically). Most importantly, they learn how to learn, using disciplined reading, writing, speaking, and listening as modalities essential to learning.

Under both approaches students learn to:

  • raise vital questions and problems
  • gather and assess important information
  • come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions
  • think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought
  • communicate effectively with others
  • figure out practical solutions to complex problems

It is commonly believed, and we suggest rightly, that the Oxford Tutorial methods of teaching are powerful for shaping minds and stimulating learning. It is also commonly believed, but we suggest wrongly, that the Oxford Tutorial methods are effective only in one-to-one, or one-to-two, teacher/student ratios.

The most important hypothesis of the Academy is the view that the “essence” of the successful teaching methods of the Oxford Tutorials and Cambridge Supervisions may be identified and “exported” in forms of instruction with varied and higher faculty/student ratios.


The Exportation of Oxford Tutorial Teaching Strategies.

Oxford LibraryConsider the following Oxford Tutorial teaching strategies adapted to a class size of 25:

  1. In the traditional one-on-one setting, the tutor might Socratically question the tutee. In a one-on-twenty-five setting, the “tutor” might Socratically question the class as a whole (randomly calling on students to voice their views).
  2. In the traditional one-on-one setting, the tutor might assign the tutee to draft a short essay on a key concept or question relevant to learning some dimension of content. In a one-on-twenty-five setting, the “tutor” might assign the same essay to the class as a whole.
  3. In the traditional one-on-one setting, the tutor might discuss with the tutee her or his reasoning in a short essay (focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of the essay). In a one-on-twenty-five setting, the “tutor” might break the class into groups of two, three or four, with each student taking turns both questioning and being questioned by the other student(s) in the group (in a disciplined process of analyzing and assessing each student essay under the direction of faculty).

Using these and similar methods, students would learn to play, reciprocally and ever more effectively, both the role of the tutor and that of the tutee.

In the Academy we shall set out a variety of ways in which this design can be made practical. In each case, there will be some gain and some loss inherent in the two conditions of teaching and learning. Again and again, the most challenging task appears that of successfully exporting (with appropriate adaptations) traditional Oxford Tutorial teaching strategies into the setting of a one-on-twenty-five setting. The Academy will thus consist in engaging participants reflecting on both modes of teaching and learning, fostering a well-grounded understanding of how to make the exportation and transfer possible.

We grant from the outset that it is unlikely that the exported strategies will achieve as high a level of success as that of the traditional Oxbridge one-on-one tutorial format. For one, students learning to play the role of a questioning tutor will not, in most cases, think to ask some of the most important, and penetrating, questions that an experienced don would ask. >Secondly, because the tutor cannot be present simultaneously in every group, some weak or faulty reasoning will not be identified as such.

Nevertheless, the matter is a question of degree. And if we are able to produce higher quality learning, though not perhaps the “highest” quality learning, by exporting and adapting traditional Oxford Tutorial methods to the exigencies of higher teacher/student ratios, we will have served the large mass of students and the public well. Then something of the power of the Oxford Tutorial teaching strategies will become accessible to those teaching and learning in settings that lacks the luxury of a one-to-one teaching/learning experience.

We argue that the Oxbridge Tutorial methods are not mysterious, metaphysical realities, but intellectually sensible ways to stimulate students to learn at a high level. What makes them successful is identifiable; and, once identified, adaptable to higher faculty/student ratios.

The Oxford Tutorial and Teaching for Critical Thinking: The Common Denominator

In both the Oxford Tutorial Method of Teaching and the evolving Teaching for Critical Thinking Method, students are assigned regular work that forces them to become intellectually engaged in thinking systematically through a curriculum. The result is that students learn how to learn: how to read well, to write well, to speak well, to listen well, and (in sum) to think well.

The main strength of the Oxford Tutorial is not given in a precise set of formal arrangements, but in the tutor’s ability to adapt arrangements to accomplish important academic intellectual goals.

Admittedly, Oxford and Cambridge tutorials and supervisions “give to the education at Oxford and Cambridge something scarcely to be got elsewhere in such full measure.” But this is the key: can’t all students profit from adaptation of the forms of many if not most of the strategies that give power to Oxford Tutorials. If the bulk of our students cannot gain access to the Oxford Tutorials “in full measure,” then why not give it to them in three quarters measure, or, failing that, in half measure? Why not teach students in such a way as to enable them to profit from the insights of the Oxford Tutorial at the same time that they glean the insights derivative of critical thinking as educational process and goal?

David Palfreyman is probably correct in suggesting that the process of handling material for oneself and of bringing together one’s own analysis, reflection, judgement in a form which is really a creation of individual thought is perhaps best achieved in the classic Oxbridge Tutorials and Supervisions.

Yet there are rich and powerful pedagogical strategies that approximate the means and ends of Oxbridge tutorial intensity. Seeing and experiencing some of the most powerful of these alternative teaching structures will be the principal goal of the Academy.

Background reading for the Conference
THE OXFORD TUTORIAL: ‘Thanks, you taught me how to think’
Edited by David Palfreyman With Contributions from: James Clark, Richard Dawkins, Robin Lane Fox, Richard Mash, Peter Mirfield, Roger Pearson, Penny Probert, Alan Ryan, Suzanne Shale, Andrew Smith, and Emma Smith

John Stuart Mill: On Instruction, Intellectual Development and Disciplined Learning
By Linda Elder and Rush Cosgrove


Registration and Accommodation Options

You may choose either to stay at New College, or to attend as a day delegate.  To maximize the depth of your learning through after-hour ongoing discussions with your academy colleagues, we encourage you to stay at New College with us.

Overnight or  Day Delegate

The total fee for overnight delegates is $1310 US Dollars**. This covers overnight accommodations for 4 nights, all meals (except the evening meal on 5 September), and full registration fee, beginning with the evening meal 2 September, 2008, and ending at 4:00 p.m. on 6 September. All rooms are private, though some share bathroom facilities (between 2-3 rooms). Overnight accommodations are for the nights of 2,3,4 and 5 September.  For additional nights’ stay, the rate is $120 per night, which includes overnight accommodation with full English breakfast. Additional nights’ stay available only on 6 and 7 September.  Delegates who wish to bring one overnight adult guest who will not be attending the academy may do so.  The overnight fee for guests of delegates is $745, which includes overnight accommodations as well as all meals included for delegates.

For day delegates, the fee is $842 US Dollars**.  This includes registration fee, lunch, morning and tea breaks each academy day. (no lodging included)

All payments must be received in US dollars. You may check the current exchange rates by using an online currency calculator .

The academy will begin with registration at approximately 9:00 am on 3 September, and end at approximately 4:00 pm on 6 September. 

Academy delegates will be limited to 100. 

Cancellations received in writing before 2 August 2008 will be charged a $100 administration charge.  Cancellations after this date cannot be accepted.  Substitutions in person attending can be made up to two weeks in advance without charge.  In the event of circumstances beyond its control, the Foundation for Critical Thinking reserves the right to amend or cancel any academy.  The Foundation For Critical Thinking is not liable for any expense incurred by delegates as a result of cancellation