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Critical Thinking Approach To Teaching Mechanical Engineering

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Interdisciplinary Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.346.1 - 8.346.4

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Paper Authors

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Jan Lugowski

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

Session 3449

Critical-Thinking Approach to Teaching Mechanical Engineering

Jan T. Lugowski Purdue University

1. Introduction

Critical thinking, in the context of teaching, means a careful consideration of the material learned by students in class and outside of it. It is very natural to accept without questioning material presented by the teacher, textbook, journals, internet, etc. Several examples are presented that show how detrimental this approach is to student’s learning. Questioning, or carefully considering, requires courage, also to admit incompetence, understanding of the basics, and often hard work. That’s why many students avoid it. History is full of examples of scientists, researchers, and engineers who avoided critical thinking in their careers. Those who did apply critical thinking, contributed to the progress in their disciplines. It may seem that lack of critical thinking occurred only in the past. We often are so deeply engaged in solving problems that we overlook that there often is another possible approach to a problem. In the bibliography1-9, several references are given to publications that deal with critical thinking as a way of living. In this paper, only limited experiences are presented that relate to a few courses in the Mechanical Engineering Technology Department at Purdue University.

2. Critical thinking as applied to course work

Students should understand the scientific principles in a given course. It will help them notice discrepancies between the theory and practice when they do occur. This will promote learning, but only when students pursue the explanation for the discrepancy. Was it due to their lack of understanding of the principles, was there an error in the experiment or application, or, was it simply due to typing error in the textbook? Students often expect excellence from textbooks, other course materials, laboratory equipment, and often are taken by surprise when the outcome is not what they had expected. This is especially evident in laboratory exercises. There are often a few students who blame their problems with laboratory assignments on the malfunctioning equipment, poor instruction, confusing instructions. In MET 382 Controls and Instrumentation for Automation students are asked to submit recommendations for improving every one of the six multiple-week laboratory assignments. They are asked to avoid complaints, and to concentrate how the assignments can be made better. While it is understandable that encountered problems are very helpful in identifying the improvements, many students have trouble moving beyond complaining about problems.

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Lugowski, J. (2003, June), Critical Thinking Approach To Teaching Mechanical Engineering Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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