ABSTRACT

Navigating through an increasingly complex world of information technology and globalization requires creativity in thinking. A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (4) states that higher education is slow to adapt to the rapidly changing environment: Students need to learn how to embrace lifelong learning in order to become good problem solvers. Becoming a self-directed learner poses a great challenge, especially for first-generation students: Compared with their peers, first-generation college students tend to show lower critical abilities, receive less family support in attending college, are less confident about their college success, and more likely to drop out. This article offers a student-centered approach to teaching historically underserved first-year college students academic thinking and writing skills by using TED Talk “thinking tasks” to engage students in online writing activities at home. Two sections of developmental psychology students participated in lectures and class discussions and were administered two multiple-choice exams (Exam 1 and Exam 2). For Exam 1, only the study group received online assignments, whereas the control group received no additional course-enhancing tasks. For Exam 2, both sections participated in the online thinking tasks. Results show that the test scores were mediated by the extra time students spent writing about their learning experiences, suggesting that inspirational TED Talks enhanced course comprehension and facilitated the acquisition of complex psychological concepts and theories of human development. Higher education should inspire students to be actively involved in self-motivated learning and should foster critical thinking and writing.

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