Asee peer logo

Critical Thinking In Engineering And Technology Education: A Review

Download Paper |


2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Improving Technical Understanding of All Americans

Tagged Division

Technological Literacy Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.344.1 - 13.344.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Elaine Cooney Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis

author page

Karen Alfrey

author page

Steve Owens Indiana University - Purdue University-Indianapolis

Download Paper |

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

Critical Thinking in Engineering and Technology Education: a Review INTRODUCTION

The ability to think critically is a vitally important skill in the engineering workplace. The need for critical thinking is implicit in most of the program outcomes proscribed by ABET, including designing experiments and interpreting data; designing a product to specifications with realistic constraints; understanding ethical responsibility; and understanding the impact of engineering solutions within a contemporary and societal context. Furthermore, IUPUI, like many universities, explicitly recognizes the importance of critical thinking as a component of undergraduate education by identifying it among the university’s Principles of Undergraduate Learning (PULs). However, the ability to think critically and independently is cited by employers as one of the greatest deficiencies in recent engineering graduates [1, 2]. We may believe we are fostering critical thinking skills in our engineering and technology curricula – but are our undergraduates developing those skills as we intend?

Background and Motivation

“Critical thinking” is the ability to analyze carefully and logically information and ideas from multiple perspectives. This skill is demonstrated in the ability to • analyze complex issues and make informed decisions; • synthesize information in order to arrive at reasoned conclusions; • evaluate the logic, validity, and relevance of data; • solve challenging problems; and • use knowledge and understanding in order to generate and explore new questions.

Here at IUPUI, the disconnect between the amount of critical thinking experience we as engineering and technology faculty believe we are providing to our students, and the amount our students perceive they are receiving, was made very clear by the results of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) [3]. On one question, students were asked to characterize the extent to which they engaged in thinking critically and analytically while enrolled at IUPUI. Table 1 summarizes the results on this question for all degree-granting schools at IUPUI, as well as the average across all participating IUPUI students. The difference between IUPUI schools was modest, with average scores ranging from 3.06 to 3.61 (that is, between “quite a bit” and “very much”). Surprisingly, however, students from the School of Engineering and Technology assigned among the lowest scores to this measure – 3.10 compared to a campus average of 3.26. In fact, the only two schools or divisions to report a lower score on Thinking Critically and Analytically were University College (score 3.10, p < 0.001, not shown in table), the division for students not yet admitted to another degree program (often because they require prerequisite or remedial work), and Informatics (score 3.06), which due to its small size did not show statistically significant differences from the mean. Furthermore, Engineering and Technology was the only degree-granting school on campus whose students rated their growth in Thinking Critically and Analytically at a statistically significant lower level than the average across campus.

Cooney, E., & Alfrey, K., & Owens, S. (2008, June), Critical Thinking In Engineering And Technology Education: A Review Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3684

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015