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Critical Thinking Skills Of Engineering Students: Undergraduate Vs. Graduate Students

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.374.1 - 11.374.10



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Paper Authors


Elliot Douglas University of Florida

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Elliot Douglas is an Associate Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Florida. His educational research interests lie in the areas of critical thinking and active learning techniques.

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

Critical Thinking Skills of Engineering Students: Undergraduate vs. Graduate Students


Critical thinking among engineering students is an important issue, yet there is little known about the differences between undergraduate and graduate students. This study provides initial data comparing the critical thinking skills of engineering undergraduate and graduate students. Twenty five students were administered the California Critical Thinking Skills Test. The only difference observed between the groups was that the graduate students completed fewer questions within the time limit compared to the undergraduates. Qualitative data shows differences between the groups in the way they approached the test. The results suggest that there are important differences in the way undergraduates and graduate students approach tests, and that the use of timed instruments may not be appropriate to measure complex thinking skills.


Development of critical thinking skills is generally recognized as an important aspect of undergraduate education. An internet search reveals a large number of colleges and universities, both public and private, comprehensive and liberal arts, that explicitly call for the development of critical thinking skills as part of their mission statement. Two examples are those of Clemson University, which states, “In all areas, the goal is to develop students' communication and critical-thinking skills, ethical judgment, global awareness, and scientific and technological knowledge,”1 and Missouri Valley College, which states, “The College's liberal arts heritage focuses on scholarship, critical thinking and academic excellence to prepare the students to become members of a responsible citizenry.”2 (Emphases added.) Within engineering in particular, ABET 2000 has guided engineering programs to develop a set of educational objectives, many of which include the ability to engage in critical thinking as one of the desired skills (see for example 3-6).

While many papers in the engineering education literature claim to address critical thinking, for the most part these reports simply discuss critical thinking as a general concept, with no attempt to define or measure it. The few that do have examined critical thinking skills as related to different aspects of engineering education, and so no comprehensive view of the critical thinking skills of engineering students can be obtained.

In one study, Polanco et al. used the Spanish version of the California Critical Thinking Skills Test as one measure to determine the effectiveness of a problem-based learning curriculum in the first two years of the engineering curriculum at a Mexican university.7 No difference in overall score or in any of the sub-scores was observed between the students who had participated in the new curriculum and the control group. However, there is no indication of the sample sizes, demographic description of the groups, or even the definition of what constituted the control group, making the usefulness of this study limited.

Critical thinking skills were measured for minority engineering students who had failed in the first year at predominately white institutions and were enrolled in a special support program at

Douglas, E. (2006, June), Critical Thinking Skills Of Engineering Students: Undergraduate Vs. Graduate Students Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--101

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