Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Second Advisor

Erich W. Baumgartner

Third Advisor

Duane M. Covrig


Problem. The development of critical-thinking skills during the professional training of respiratory therapists is imperative for good practice. Research evidence suggests that interactive instructional strategies are far more effective than traditional lectures. Missing from the literature are thick descriptions of how faculty organize the delivery of respiratory therapy curriculum to develop critical thinking. This case study describes the beliefs and practices of faculty members in an academically strong program in view of developing critical thinking.

Method. A qualitative, single case-study design was used to identify critical-thinking strategies and beliefs incorporated by the faculty. The program was nominated by expert members of the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. Qualitative data were collected from classroom observations, program and syllabi documents, and audio taped interviews with administrators and faculty. These data were analyzed and represented in ametaphor and a mathematical model.

Results. The analysis revealed three major themes: (a) The faculty believe critical thinking is developed by motivating students to learn by doing; (b) a variety of educational strategies and techniques were used to involve students in active learning; and (c) essential programmatic characteristics support the development of critical thinking.

This research identified ways that faculty motivate students to become effective critical thinkers. Faculty passion is an important student motivator. Tying clinical experiences to classroom instruction also motivates students. Students are further motivated when they recognize competent faculty with well-planned curricula.

The faculty believe the best teaching strategies involve the students in "learn by doing" activities that keep the students from developing an excessive dependence on them for learning. "Learn by doing" activities include: Problem-based learning and techniques philosophically consistent with cooperative learning such as presentations in class, organizing and providing peer teaching, peer evaluation, and classroom discourse. The faculty provide an extensive orientation to clarify student and faculty roles during the initial problem-based learning course.

The development of critical thinking is enhanced when program characteristics include adequate numbers of faculty so that optimal faculty-to-student learning ratios are achieved in crucial curriculum areas. The faculty maintained that college instructors should hold agraduate degree. In addition, faculty value substantial program prerequisites and high admissions standards. They do not leave student preparation for credentialing examinations to chance and require the regular passage of comprehensive examinations over the previous quarter's work. The role of the student and faculty in the development of critical thinking is represented metaphorically in a mathematical equation that describes the relationship between factors that govern nutrient exchange where mother and child meet in the placenta.

Conclusions. The development of critical thinking results from the successful implementation of sound beliefs. An effective respiratory therapy learning environment has key features that correlate with those described by social learning theorists as occurring in the zone of proximal development. In addition to learn-by-doing strategies and techniques, faculty must focus on the motivation that faculty supply as role models and program characteristics.

Subject Area

Respiratory therapists--Training of, Respiratory therapy--Study and teaching, Critical thinking