Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name



Social Work

First Advisor

Grant, Jill


critical reflection; critical thinking; education; epistemology; pedagogy; social work




Critical thinking is a topic that is important to both teaching and learning in higher education, yet the effectiveness of universities in producing graduates who have the capacity to think critically has been debated. For the profession of social work, dedicated to an agenda of social justice for marginalized populations, the ability to engage in critical thinking and reflective practice is paramount. In this light, a reconceptualization of what critical thinking is in social work education and how it can be fostered within the changing landscape of teaching and learning in the 21st century is essential. In a qualitative Delphi study conducted with 28 social work faculty members internationally, six themes emerged from a thematic analysis of the data. A qualitative research design was utilized to gain a rich understanding of what critical thinking is in social work education, specifically addressing the following: how do expert social work faculty understand critical thinking, how is critical thinking operationalized in the classroom, and how do social work educators know when students are thinking critically. After three iterations, consensus was achieved on several points, including the view that critical thinking is a multidimensional process. The emerging themes of critical thinking as a multidimensional process, epistemological influences and understanding, pedagogy, critical perspective and anti-oppressive lens, lack of a shared understanding, and assessment identified from this study are described as being interrelated and reciprocal. There is richness in the diversity of thought and pedagogy that informs social work education, which participants suggest is an asset in promoting the understanding and development of critical thinking in students. Findings from this study will aid in informing both curriculum development and a pedagogy to support the development of these skills for the next generation of social workers.