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Applying A Hierarchical Model Of Mental Growth To Educate Undergraduate Engineering Students: Preliminary Assessment

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Understanding Students: Cognition

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.219.1 - 7.219.10



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Paper Authors

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Scott Husson

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Richard Rice

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James Haile

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II, S. Michael Kilbey

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Graham Harrison

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Douglas Hirt

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David Bruce

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Charles Gooding

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Deborah Switzer

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Main Menu Session 1330

Applying a Hierarchical Model of Mental Growth to Educate Undergraduate Engineering Students: Preliminary Assessment

S.M. Husson†, D.E Hirt†, D.A. Bruce†, C.H. Gooding†, J.M. Haile, G.M. Harrison†, S.M. Kilbey II†, R.W. Rice†, D.M. Switzer‡ † Dept. of Chemical Engineering, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634/ ‡ School of Education, Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634

This presentation illustrates the framework for implementing a hierarchical model of mental growth as the basis for developing critical thinking skills and engineering judgment in engineering undergraduates. We adopt the hypotheses that mental growth constitutes a progression through a hierarchy of cognition, that the critical thinking and judgment required of engineers lies at an upper level in the hierarchy, and that to reach high levels, an individual must master cognitive skills and reorganize knowledge gained at lower levels. These hypotheses provide a roadmap for developing effective teaching and learning strategies to be applied to core engineering courses taught in the sophomore and junior years. It also suggests that the conventional approach of simply applying high-level instruction to educate sophomores and juniors does not necessarily produce seniors who can think critically. Our educational strategy, therefore, is to strengthen low-level cognitive skills in sophomores and juniors that provide a proper foundation on which high-level cognitive skills can be developed. We describe teaching and learning devices that exercise low-level cognitive skills and that support effective development of critical thinking. Assessment instruments that monitor student growth and evaluate the effectiveness of these teaching and learning devices are also described.


Engineering undergraduates are expected to apply “critical thinking skills” to solve comprehensive problems. For example, ABET criterion 3c states that graduates must have “an ability to design a system, component, or process,” which involves the integration of fundamental science and engineering concepts from a variety of courses and disciplines. As another example, engineering educators are becoming more aware of schema such as Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives and are being encouraged to include work that pushes the higher-level thinking skills: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. We agree that students should be provided opportunities and mentoring to develop their higher-level (critical) thinking skills, but we also espouse the following hypothesis:

Students must first master their lower-level thinking skills before they can apply higher-level thinking skills.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exhibition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Husson, S., & Rice, R., & Haile, J., & Kilbey, I. S. M., & Harrison, G., & Hirt, D., & Bruce, D., & Gooding, C., & Switzer, D. (2002, June), Applying A Hierarchical Model Of Mental Growth To Educate Undergraduate Engineering Students: Preliminary Assessment Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--11117

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