Ian Normile (PhD candidate)

Thesis title: An Expansive Ideal of Critical Thinking for Cross-Cultural Contexts in UK Higher Education


I grew up on a small farm in the U.S. state of Montana. My first teaching experience came as a Judo and Jujitsu instructor for at-risk teens. This sparked an interest in education, which led me to study social sciences and humanities with a focus on history at Western Washington University. My intention was to become a secondary school history teacher. However, my passion for travel took me in a different direction - or, really, many different directions. From hitchhiking in Australia to trekking in the Andes, I found exploring the world as educational as anything I'd experienced in the classroom. Similarly, I found varied work experiences, including time as a ranch-hand, political fundraising, working as a night-shift janitor at an oil refinery, and various stints in landscaping and construction provided invaluable opportunities for learning and growth. Eventually, I found a way to combine my interests in education and travel by teaching English in Hanoi, Vietnam. I spent five years in Vietnam, mostly in academic management, including time as the Director of Studies for an organisation with more than 100 teachers and 10,000 students. In 2017 I completed (with distinction) the MSc Education programme at the University of Edinburgh. After my Master's I moved to Xiamen, China where I briefly worked as a kindergarten teacher, then spent two years as the Deputy Head of an international primary school. I have now returned to Edinburgh, where I'm nearing completion of a fully-funded PhD research project focusing on critical thinking in diverse higher education contexts. My experiences of travel, work, and international education have greatly shaped my approaches to teaching, learning, and research. 


PhD Education candidate (University of Edinburgh, fully funded scholarship starting in 2020)

MSc Education with distinction (University of Edinburgh, 2017)

CELTA: Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (Cambridge University, 2010)

BA Humanities and Social Sciences (Western Washington University, 2008)

Postgraduate teaching

I currently teach on the following courses of the MSc Education programme:

  • Philosophy of Education
  • Research Methods: Sources of Knowledge
  • Research Methods: Conceptualising Research
  • Dissertation supervisor for MSc Education students.

Research summary

My research interests include:

  • Philosophy of education
  • Purposes of education
  • Philosophical foundations of education research
  • Moral education
  • Academic freedom
  • Critical dialogue as a conduit for social justice
  • Connecting the mystical and critical
  • Critical thinking in initial and ongoing teacher education 
  • Climate change: Thinking critically and collaboratively
  • Democratic education & education for democracy
  • International and comparative education
  • Cross-cultural learning
  • Aligning education theory, policy, and practice
  • Education leadership

Current research interests

I am currently working to articulate an ideal of critical thinking applicable at an expansive scope in diverse higher education contexts without reliance on the assumption of substantive universal values. Put more simply, I want to help higher education provide a space where people with diverse perspectives speak with, instead of past, each other in critical dialogue.

Past research interests

Patriotism and citizenship education (MSc Education dissertation)
  • Normile, I.H. (2022) "Exploring Criticality in Chinese Philosophy: Refuting Generalisations and Supporting Critical Thinking". Studies in Philosophy and Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11217-022-09855-3.


  • Normile, I.H. (forthcoming) "Expanding Critical Thinking into ‘Critical Being’ through Wonder and Wu-wei." Educational Theory.