June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
Educational Research and Methods
26.124.1 - 26.124.11
A thematic analysis comparing critical thinking in engineering and humanities undergraduatesThis paper examines the meaning and enactment of critical thinking for engineering andhumanities undergraduate students. Critical thinking is considered an important attribute inengineers and there is a desire to graduate engineers with the ability to think critically. However,humanities departments believe that they are a key contributor to fostering creative and criticalthinking. Thus, in this paper we seek to provide an initial exploration of the similarities anddifferences of what critical thinking is for humanities and engineering students. We address thefollowing research question: What are the similarities and differences between humanities andengineering students in their perceptions and enactment of critical thinking?Semi-structured interviews were conducted with five undergraduate Materials Science andEngineering students and four undergraduate English students. These interviews focused on theways in which students used critical thinking in their classes. Interviews were analyzed usingthematic analysis. Statements in the interview transcriptions were coded with descriptive labelsand these codes were then categorized into themes.English and Materials Science and Engineering students differed in the specific way criticalthinking occurred. A major theme that arose for engineering students was that critical thinkingwas often similar or equivalent to problem solving, with many of the underlying categorieswithin this theme reflecting steps in the problem-solving process. However, English students sawcritical thinking as a way of gaining a deep understanding of literature and forming anddefending an argument. They would perform these actions by understanding others’ analyses,comparing and applying the resulting conclusions, and then placing both the literature being readand others’ conclusions into the context within which they were created. Doing so allowed themto connect ideas either to their own life, to readings, or to the world in general.There were both similarities and differences in the ways the two groups of students consideredcritical thinking. Common themes included affective aspects such as an interest or willingness tothink critically, the use of resources as a part of critical thinking, and the belief that engagementin class was a key aspect of learning to think critically. The primary difference was thatengineering students stated that critical thinking is not explicitly discussed or addressed in theirclasses while English students encountered critical thinking or analysis more frequently.The results of this study suggest that at least some aspects of critical thinking may be unique toengineering, but also that engineering students seem to have a less sophisticated view of how tothink critically. Such differences may reflect the way engineering is taught; the classes of theseEnglish students were primarily discussions among the students rather than dissemination ofinformation. Following this model of learning through active learning techniques may provide ameans to enhance the critical thinking skills of engineering students.
ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015