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Are Freshman Engineering Students Able To Think And Write Critically?

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

FPD3 -- Professional Issues for First-Year Courses

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.253.1 - 12.253.12



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Paper Authors


Karen High Oklahoma State University

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KAREN HIGH earned her B.S. from the University of Michigan in 1985 and her M.S. in 1988 and Ph.D. in 1991 from the Pennsylvania State University. Dr. High is an Associate Professor in the School of Chemical Engineering at Oklahoma State University where she has been since 1991. Her main research interests are Sustainable Process Design, Industrial Catalysis, and Multicriteria Decision Making. Other scholarly activities include enhancing creativity in engineering practice and teaching science to education professionals. Dr. High is a trainer for Project Lead the Way pre-Engineering curriculum. Dr. High is involved with the development of an undergraduate entrepreneurship program at Oklahoma State University.

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Rebecca Damron Oklahoma State University

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REBECCA DAMRON earned her B.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1987 in South Asian Studies, her M.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language in 1992 from Oklahoma State University, and her Ph.D. in Linguistics in 1997 from Oklahoma State University. Dr. Damron worked in the writing program in the department of English at the University of Tulsa from 1996-2001, and is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Director of the OSU Writing Center at Oklahoma State University. Her main research interests are in writing in the disciplines, discourse analysis of talk about writing and corpus-based analysis of written texts.

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

Are Freshman Engineering Students Able to Think and Write Critically? Abstract

“Critical Thinking is defined as reasonable reflective thinking that is focused on deciding what to believe or do. More precisely, it is assessing the authenticity, accuracy, and/or worth of knowledge claims and arguments. It requires careful, precise, persistent and objective analysis of any knowledge claim or belief to judge its validity and/or worth.”1

This paper reports on a study done to determine critical thinking skills of freshman engineering students measured by assessing an assignment written in response to a cooperative in-class activity. The class, a freshman level, one hour course, “Introduction to Engineering” has been taught by Dr. High (an engineer) for eight years. The class meets for 15 hours during the semester and covers six main areas: academic success; professional success; engineering information; engineering design and problem solving; societal issues of engineers; and personal development. Essentially, this course addresses “professional skills” as defined by ABET criteria. For the purpose of this study three sections with 66 students total were chosen to participate.

The cooperative, in-class activity, “The Airplane Design Challenge” asks students to jointly find solutions to the problem of designing an airplane with limited materials and production challenges in order to learn the essential notions in engineering of process and product design. The written assignment asks students to complete a reflective assignment in which they consider their impressions from the activity, how well their group functioned together, describe their group’s product and process design, provide definitions of product and process design and draw conclusions about what this exercise tells them about what engineering is and what an engineer does.

A perfect setting for practicing and assessing critical thinking skills, the “Airplane Design Challenge” was modified in the fall 2006 semester to include an explicit question about the students perspective on the activity: Was the “Airplane Design Challenge” a good way to learn to understand the similarities and differences between product and process design? This question acted as the central idea students could develop through the reflections and definitions traditionally required of the assignment. Dr. High, Dr. Damron (an English faculty member) and another English faculty member assessed the students for critical thinking and writing ability using university-wide assessment rubrics.


Increasing attention has been given to the development of what have been called the “soft” skills in engineering, which the recent accreditation criteria of ABET (Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology) call “professional” skills. These professional skills highlight recognition in the field of engineering that in order to compete in a global context, students must be prepared to communicate, work in teams,

High, K., & Damron, R. (2007, June), Are Freshman Engineering Students Able To Think And Write Critically? Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2449

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