Logic Training and Its Role in Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Ronald Fuller, Peter Cardon, Matt North
Accepted for the 2018 conference of the International Association for Computer Information Systems

Study Background

Information systems and business school educators are constantly discussing how to improve critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills among their students. Furthermore, recruiters and alumni suggest critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities are among the most important yet often lacking skill sets for graduates.

Our primary focus is on situations involving ambiguity and complexity. Information Systems and Business programs have traditionally been known for graduating highly analytical business professionals. However, many recent evaluations of such programs suggest that schools often fail to produce graduates who are effective and creative thinkers in highly unstructured situations (Datar, Garvin, & Cullen, 2010). Given the contemporary business environment—where exponentially growing amounts of unstructured information is readily available, where product cycles are shorter, where innovation is expected faster, and where technologies such as artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the nature of work—the ability to think critically is more important than ever. Furthermore, the ability to communicate precisely, concisely, and logically is a differentiating skill for many graduates.

Our central premise is that logic training leads to more effective critical thinking and problem solving. In fact, logic training is often the missing piece in significantly improving critical thinking and problem solving. While this may appear to be a somewhat simple idea, it is a largely contested notion (ASL Committee on Logic and Education, 1995; Attridge, Aberdein, & Inglis, 2016; Epp, 1997, 2001; Nisbet et al., 1987). Furthermore, even when this notion is accepted, it is rarely if ever applied to business education.

Study Methodology and Results

Our study focuses briefly on describing innovative approaches schools are taking to enhance the critical and creative thinking skills of their students. We also describe what we view as key considerations in how to develop curriculum, train instructors, and partner with industry to improve critical thinking.

Our research uses a case approach to explore the ways in which logic training, and the lack thereof, influence effective critical thinking and problem solving. The first case is based on developing queries in a database course. The case demonstrates how most students lack dynamic responsiveness to solving problems. In most cases, students can create a query that solves the problem in its static form. Yet, students rarely succeed in developing queries that will be successful when the underlying data or assumptions to the problem change. The second case focuses on pitch decks created in an entrepreneurship course and demonstrates the key logical flaws—in content and presentation—that students commonly make. Both cases are used to show how logic training can improve student performance.

Implications for Educators

Given the focus on critical thinking and problem solving by educators around the world, we believe it’s critical to identify the fundamental logic skills that support effective critical thinking and problem solving. Specifically, we have identified the following skills that teachers should emphasize:

  • Recognize valid and invalid argument forms
  • Distinguish between the form and content of an argument
  • Understand the antecedents and consequents of their own assumptions or the claims of others
  • Follow or construct a simple line of deductive reasoning
  • Recognize ambiguity in their own communication and that of others
  • Determine what conditions satisfy a simple set of rules or constraints

We demonstrate how educators can develop content and asses proficiency (i.e., rubrics) in these areas of logic training.

References

ASL Committee on Logic and Education. (1995). Guidelines for logic education. The Bulletin for Symbolic Logic, 1(1), 4-7.
Attridge, N., Aberdein, A., & Inglis, M. (2016). Does studying logic improve logical reasoning? In Csíkos, C., Rausch, A., & Szitányi, J. (Eds.). Proceedings of the 40th Conference of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Vol. 2, pp. 27–34. Szeged, Hungary: PME.
Datar, S. M., Garvin, D. A., & Cullen, P. G. (2010). Rethinking the MBA: Business education at the crossroads. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.
Epp, S. S. (1997). Logic and discrete mathematics in the schools. DIMACS Series in Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science, 368, 75-83.
Epp, S. S. (2003). The role of logic in teaching proof. The American Mathematical Monthly, 110(1), 886-899.
Nisbett, R. E., Fong, G. T., Lehman, D. R., & Cheng, P W. (1987). Teaching reasoning. Science, 238, 625-631.