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Logical Thinking Programme For Undergraduates

We have developed a set of 6 exercise-based sessions (1 hour each) to teach logical thinking and the use of concept-/causal-mapping techniques. These sessions can be run individually or as a pair of integrated three-hour blocks.

This programme has been run with groups of up to 100 students at a time.

The students spend time working in small teams on one or more exercises. Teams then exchange their work and give each other constructive feedback.

Expanding And Exploring Cause-Effect Statements

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Many times we read or hear a statement where the jump in logic is too large to be immediately obvious. For example, imagine a politician saying that "reducing benefits will improve the economy". Which pieces of information and logical relationships have not been stated? What is the mechanism or process by which this happens? What other conditions must be satisfied for this statement to be correct?

In this session we use a diagrammatic technique (Cognitive-/Concept-/Causal-Mapping) to explore and expand the logic of a statement.

Drilling-down To Specifics/Question Maps

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In this session, we look at how to define a question or topic by breaking it down into progressively smaller and more specific pieces in order to identify what is necessary and sufficient to address it accurately. The techniques we use are top-down trees (or drilling-down) and Question Maps. Both involve working from larger, more general aspects to smaller, more specific details.

Resolving Conflicting/Contradictory Positions

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Often we will encounter two conflicting or contradictory positions. This session explores how to handle this by:

  • Making the reasoning behind the conflict/contradiction transparent
  • Identifying questionable or invalid reasoning behind each position
  • Developing an approach to resolve the conflict/contradiction by addressing the flawed reasoning

In this session we use a diagrammatic technique called Dilemma Trees to reveal the reasoning underpinning the two positions.

Hypotheses: Discriminating Between Provisional Explanations

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Research questions typically take three forms:

  • Exploration/Description: What happens?
  • Explanation: Why or how does it happen? How does ⟨cause⟩ lead to ⟨effect⟩?
  • Exploitation/Application: How can we use this knowledge?

This session focuses upon research questions of explanation. A hypothesis is a provisional explanation that requires confirmation. It is important to consider more than one hypothesis, to avoid rationalising your way to an incorrect conclusion. The following quote is pertinent:
"Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have."
Emile‑Auguste Chartier (French philosopher and journalist, 1868 – 1951)

Thinking Downstream: Anticipating Consequences

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Sometimes the consequences of an event are relatively straightforward like a series of links in a chain – each link connecting to another. Other times, the consequences arise within a system and can be more complex and even unexpected! Systemic consequences are frequently encountered because most things are part of a larger system. This session uses causal-mapping to anticipate the effects of an action or event.

Thinking Upstream: Uncovering Causes And Circumstances

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This type of thinking begins from an event and then progressively works backwards to possible explanations. A process of questioning is used to raise various possibilities which can then be either discounted or supported by seeking additional information. This thinking-in-reverse is used by people such as:

  • doctors dealing with the outbreak of a new disease;
  • detectives solving crimes;
  • aviation authorities investigating airline accidents;
  • businesses finding and fixing problems.

Writing Clearly And Concisely For Undergraduates

Writing essays and reports forms an important part of an undergraduate degree and a career. We have developed a set of exercise-based sessions to teach clear and concise writing. These sessions have been run with groups of up to 100 students at a time.

The students spend time working in small teams on one or more exercises. Teams then exchange their work and give each other constructive feedback. The sessions focus upon three aspects of writing:

Considering the aim and audience

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What is the purpose of this piece of writing? Is it to gain agreement or provoke action? Who is the intended audience?

Designing a logical structure

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What is the reasoning and evidence that is necessary to support a conclusion or position? The techniques of argument trees and cognitive-/causal-mapping are used to map the logical structures.

  • Is the argument complete?
  • Are the elements connected?
  • Is the argument correctly sequenced?

Finding And Fixing the following faults in writing style

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How is the argument expressed in writing? Is it clear and concise? Or does it suffer from any of the following faults:

  • Vague and ambiguous
  • Irrelevant and unnecessary
  • Indirect, implicit or evasive
  • Complicated or confusing sentences
  • Inaccurate, distorted or misrepresented

 

These three aspects of writing are practised in an integrated way as a three-hour block, which focuses upon either:

 

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