Mike Eastman

Mike Eastman Headshot

Mike Eastman leads CET's First Year Exploration program in addition to his regular duties as Associate Dean. His research and work passion focus on student success and how we, as faculty, can support student learning and achievement. Read his answers to a few critical thinking questions:

1. How do you teach or model applied critical thinking?

As I have become more seasoned (older) as an educator, I have found incredible value in trying to create authentic learning experiences for students.  The less I "tell" them and the more I can create opportunities for them to discover for themselves, the better for the students. My goal is to engage students in a way that encourages them to ask questions. I encourage students to question their own understanding and their own assumptions and biases.  Do not simply accept what they are told by others (including me) but question and verify. Students in my classes often work in groups and are required to communicate understand verbally and in writing.  Despite calculating the "correct" answer, if they cannot communicate their understanding concisely, they probably do not understand.

2. Why do you think applied critical thinking is important in your domain or role?

Successful engineers need to think critically.  We have to remain open-minded, be able to analyze data, and not jump to conclusions. Our goal is to fully understand (and be able to concisely explain) why something is happening.  To do that, we need to cast assumptions aside and build up understanding from simple to complex.

In teaching and administration, critical thinking takes many forms and is important to successful leading and guidance. Simply knowing that a student is not meeting academic standards is insufficient. To be able to help that student become successful, we must understand why the student is not being successful and those reasons may be unique for each student.  As an instructor, it is easy to say "the student did not work hard enough" or "the student was not prepared for the course."  However, if we really want to make a difference, we first need to understand if either of those claims are true and if they are, we really need to ask "why?"  If a student did not put in enough effort, why did they not put in enough effort?  Could I have taken different actions as an instructor that would have helped the student be successful?  Could I have engaged the student differently? We need to ask our students what they need and how we can support their learning and for that we need to think critically about our students as individuals.  We need to get to know them and understand them.

3. Can you share a story where quality applied critical thinking was key to your success?

I believe most successes have been supported by critical thinking.  In my previous life as a circuit board designer, I would spend weeks or months designing every aspect of how a particular circuit board would operate.  When the board was manufactured and I finally had the opportunity to apply power, I knew it would not work perfectly.  The most challenging debugging problems required me to throw out all assumptions and critically evaluate every aspect of what is functioning incorrectly. It really becomes outside of the box thinking and a process of determining what variables could be causing a problem and eliminating those variables.

4. How do you use critical thinking in other areas of your life outside of RIT? And any last critical thoughts?

This is funny - my kids (all young adults) make fun of me because I have spreadsheets for everything. If I am purchasing a new vehicle, I create spreadsheets to compare features and costs and warranties and payments, etc.  So much of what I do from a household perspective requires the application of critical thinking - the mower won't start... don't take the carburetor apart until you have checked to see if there is gas in the tank.

One of my (many) hobbies is fly fishing. Every waterbody is different and each is different at different times of the year and varies with weather and rainfall.  Each time I arrive at a stream, either new or old, I study the water and the rocks and the terrain to determine where fish might be and what they might be interested in eating.  Thinking outside the box and trying new approaches are always successful - either you catch fish and you learn something or you don't catch fish and your learn something.  Either way, you learn something - and to me, learning is success!

I am a true believer in Growth Mindset.  As educators, we can help students be more successful learners if we get them to believe it too!