Wow, that’s a great question Andy, you really put the community on the spot. You essentially told them to guide you to a place where you want to go and that you believe that they are presently at.
IMO, critical thinking is a way of contributing your knowledge on a subject to the greatest extent that your present knowledge, experiences, and beliefs could afford. As for structured arguments (aka debates) I alway try to apply the 5 step of Armis critical thinking to such endeavors.
Armis is a high strategy board game that is present played online in over 130 countries. Certified Armis instructors teach critical thinking to students around the world though the Armis For Schools Worldwide program.
The 5 steps are as follows:
1) Analysis / Assessment
2) Planning (offensive and defensive strategies and tactics)
3) Risk Assessment
4) The Move
5) The Reaction, Effect, and Experience
1)Analysis and Assessment - before you start any endeavor is important to know the rules that govern it. For Armis you should read the rules, the equivalent for a structured debate it is knowing the rules. Then familiarize yourself with the environment, for Armis that means knowing the game board and player pieces, for the debate it means knowing your own team as well as the opposing team, try to know everyone’s strengths as well as their weaknesses, also get to know the physical environment where you will be debating so that you could take advantage of the audience, acoustics, seating arrangements, and also know as much as you can about the judges the moderator, and any others who may impact your success.
Now that you know what you are expected to do and where you are expected to perform the next step is to assess values so that you properly budget your efforts and resources.
2) Planning - In Armis there are over a million ways to properly setup, so after a setup is formed you should map and manage offensive and defensive strategies; for a debate you also need to fashion offensive and defensive strategies, making sure to incorporate an array of tactics (traditional to ‘neauve’ ). Factor in everything that can impact your goal achievement.
3) Risk Assessment - this is where you say "What if?", not just "What if he does?", but also "What if she doesn't?" for the game it is weighing probabilities that a player will do, or not do, certain actions, for the debate it is knowing not just the rules but also the consequences for breaking those rules. At times you may willingly choose to break a rule knowing that it will likely only lead to a minor disciplinary action. Know the risks for being first to answer, weigh the risks of independent thought vs group think, value the possibility of being wrong once, twice, three times.
4) Action - for Armis this is where you make your move, for the debate this is where you make your contribution either to the group, your audience, and or the judges.
5 Reaction, Effect, and Experience - for Armis it is as much how your opponent’s reacts (or lack of reaction) as much as what effect that specific move has on the rest of the game. For the debate it is also about your opponent’s reactions, but also the reaction of the judges, moderator, and especially the audience. Everything counts, as such the information that make up steps 1 - 5 including your opponent’s move is considered an experience for you to factor into your next move.
Do well and have fun at University