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An Exercise to Promote and Assess Critical Thinking in Sociotechnical Context

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Promoting Engineering and Technological Literacy

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

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Paper Authors


John Krupczak Jr NSF Division of Undergraduate Education

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Professor of Engineering, Hope College, Holland, Michigan. Former Chair of the ASEE Technological Literacy Division. Former Chair of the ASEE Liberal Education Division. Senior Fellow CASEE, National Academy of Engineering, 2008-2010.

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Mani Mina Iowa State University

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Mani Mina is with the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University. He has been working on better understanding of students' learning and issues of technological and engineering philosophy and literacy. In particular how such literacy and competency are reflected in curricular and student activities.

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This work addresses a practical means to more clearly link the completion of an ABET-accredited undergraduate engineering degree with critical thinking about sociotechnical issues. An exercise has been created which can be used to develop and measure an aspect of critical thinking by engineering students in a sociotechnical context. This exercise can be used as one possible measurement of the ability of an engineering student to demonstrate attainment of ABET outcome (h), understanding the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context. This outcome has been viewed as difficult to measure and therefore under consideration to be eliminated from the ABET criteria. The approach is based on asking students to predict impacts of a new technological product as described in a news article. A simple rubric is included which allows numerical grading of student responses. The rubric helps students to discern the difference between impacts and other aspects of new technology such as features, product capabilities, and necessary design requirements. The activity can be completed in a single class session. While more time would be beneficial, an objective of the current work was to create a very short and easily implemented activity so as to facilitate adoption by other faculty. Results show measurable increases in first year engineering students’ ability to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context. It is vital that the education of today’s engineers expand beyond mere technical competence to include the critical thinking abilities more broadly associated with technological leaders and technologically literate citizens. Considerable work has been done to develop the concepts of engineering and technological literacy as appropriate for the education of all students. At the same time less attention has been given to examining if individuals trained as engineers actually possess a broad understanding of technology and are able to engage in the type of critical thinking and decision making considered vital for a technologically literate citizenry. While the current results reported here are limited, this activity and assessment appear promising. Given the relevance to current discussions of ABET accreditation criteria revisions, this work is being reported at the present stage for the benefit of the engineering education community.

Krupczak, J., & Mina, M. (2016, June), An Exercise to Promote and Assess Critical Thinking in Sociotechnical Context Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26586

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