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A Novel Course Sequence on Critical Thinking for the Professional Development of Graduate Students

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Graduate Student Support

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Paper Authors


Michael A. Matthews P.E. University of South Carolina

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Professor Matthews received his PhD from Texas A&M University in 1986. He was a member of the faculty at the University of Wyoming from 1987 to 1993, and has been at the University of South Carolina since 1994. He currently is Senior Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs and Vice Dean in the College of Engineering and Computing

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Darin Freeburg University of South Carolina

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Dr. Darin Freeburg is an Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina. He research centers around the issues of intangible asset creation and extraction, in addition to information literacy. As part of this, he has considered how innovation is facilitated using emergent approaches, and how this innovation can be used to embolden an organization’s strategic intentions. This research has been conducted with nonprofit groups—including refugee advocates, churches, and libraries. Recognizing the value in intangible assets, Dr. Freeburg has looked to his own classrooms as places where students can begin to recognize their unique contributions to society and their current and future professions.

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Kevin Brock University of South Carolina

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Kevin Brock is an assistant professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina, where he studies and teaches courses in rhetoric, composition, and professional and technical writing.

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Gina M. Kunz P.h.D. University of South Carolina

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It is commonly assumed that advanced-degree candidates matriculate with a high level of critical thinking skills, or learn these skills from the major professor during their research apprenticeship (Lee 2008). Considerable investigations at both the undergraduate (Arum & Roksa 2011) and graduate (Walker & Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 2008) level call this assumption (and the traditional “apprenticeship” model of graduate education) into serious question. We hypothesize that common faculty concerns about their graduate students (e.g. poor writing and speaking skills; inability to comprehend and act on the literature; inability to develop independence of thought; etc.) are broadly related to lack of understanding of critical thinking, and inability to make application in the particular realm of advanced graduate research (Goodwin 2014, Parker 2012).

We have created and taught two, one-credit graduate courses for engineering (STEM) graduate students at the University of South Carolina, in which the Paul-Elder model of critical thinking (Paul & Elder 2012)is presented explicitly. The courses are designed for just-in-time intervention to graduate students at three key junctures in their programs of study. The first course, in year 1, is for new graduate students who have selected an advisor and a lab, and are beginning to develop an understanding of their research project. The course focuses on information literacy: finding, assessing, and critically reading the research literature relevant to their new project. The term project is a written critical review of literature that is relevant to some aspect of their “new” project. The second course, in year 2, is for graduate students who are preparing to write or present their work in a professional venue. The course focuses on writing, in the standards of the discipline, but with an explicit view of meeting critical thinking standards. Disciplinary standards are often presented narrowly, but should be viewed as derived from universal standards of critical thinking.

We will present the critical thinking model and course materials including course syllabi, typical assignments, and methods for effectively assessing student work. We will specifically discuss how the courses have been designed to work within the constraints of typical graduate degree program requirements and within the resource constraints of engineering graduate programs.

Arum R, Roksa J. 2011. Academically adrift : Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. xi, 259 p. pp. Goodwin B. 2014. Research says / Teach critical thinking to teach writing. Educ Leadership 71: 78-80 Lee A. 2008. How are doctoral students supervised? Concepts of doctoral research supervision. Stud High Educ 33: 267-81 Parker R. 2012. Skill development in graduate education. Mol Cell 46: 377-81 Paul R, Elder L. 2012. Critical thinking : Tools for taking charge of your learning and your life. Boston: Pearson. 493 pp. Walker GE, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 2008. The formation of scholars : Rethinking doctoral education for the twenty-first century. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. xxi, 232 pp.

Matthews, M. A., & Freeburg, D., & Brock, K., & Kunz, G. M. (2019, June), A Novel Course Sequence on Critical Thinking for the Professional Development of Graduate Students Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--31981

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