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Assessment Of Environments For Fostering Effective Critical Thinking (Effects) On A First Year Civil Engineering Course

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Educational Issues in Civil Engineering

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.256.1 - 14.256.10



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Paper Authors

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Charles Pierce University of South Carolina

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Juan Caicedo University of South Carolina

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Joseph Flora University of South Carolina

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Briana Timmerman University of South Carolina

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Wiley Graf Midlands Technical College

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Andrew Nichols Marshall University Orcid 16x16

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Timothy Ray Midlands Technical Institute

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



The Environments For Fostering Effective Critical Thinking (EFFECTs) are modular inquiry based tools specifically designed to develop critical thinking skills and collaborative teamwork skills and to improve the transfer of core knowledge in engineering classes. Student capacity for making reasonable estimates, or ballparking, is also developed in this framework. EFFECTs are based on a driving question where students work in the context of a realistic civil engineering project. Each driving question is followed up with hands on activities to enhance the student’s core knowledge, stimulate critical thinking, and perfect their estimation abilities. EFFECTs have been implemented at three different institutions for two years.

This paper discusses the implementation of EFFECTs and assessment techniques in a first-year course for undergraduate civil engineering students. Four data sources are used to measure the development of students’ critical thinking skills and estimation abilities. These include: i) a pre- post written test of both core knowledge and fundamental skills, ii) open-ended, written decision worksheets responding to each EFFECT’s driving question, iii) journal entries, and iv) student evaluation of the class. This paper focuses on the implementation of the EFFECTs and assessment techniques. In particular, the use of an online driven database to fast-track the assessment of critical thinking and core knowledge during the EFFECTs


Engineering judgment is generally regarded as critical to success in an engineering career. However, engineering judgment is not a tangible concept with clearly defined components or procedures that can be easily taught. Good engineering judgment is fostered and developed by engineers after years of experience. Similar to the role that content knowledge and experience play in scientific reasoning (i.e., reasoning skills are not context independent)1,2, engineers use core knowledge, draw upon previous authentic experiences, and use fundamental technical skills to arrive at a solution (e.g., a design or analysis of the problem at hand). Engineering judgment goes beyond the development of a solution and is a product of critical thinking regarding the appropriateness of the solution.

Engineering colleges and instructors have as a common goal that students be able to formulate good engineering judgment at the end of a course3. Currently, most classes provide students with core knowledge and technical skills within the curriculum. Students in the classroom are extensively exposed to the process of generating a solution. Instructors frequently evaluate students on the basis of whether the solution is “correct” and if they properly followed a process. Obtaining the correct solution does not constitute engineering judgment until the student has critically thought about the solution. The appropriate level of thinking ranges from the very basic (e.g., If determining the height of a column in a building, should the solution be reported with 8 significant digits?) to the more complex (e.g., Will the building be able to withstand an

Pierce, C., & Caicedo, J., & Flora, J., & Timmerman, B., & Graf, W., & Nichols, A., & Ray, T. (2009, June), Assessment Of Environments For Fostering Effective Critical Thinking (Effects) On A First Year Civil Engineering Course Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5302

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