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Developing A Rubric To Assess Critical Thinking In Assignments With An Open Ended Component

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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

Measurement Tools

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.444.1 - 14.444.12



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Paper Authors


Karen Alfrey Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis

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Karen Alfrey is Director of the Undergraduate Program in Biomedical Engineering at IUPUI. Her areas of focus include computational neuroscience and biological modeling, undergraduate mentoring and advising, curriculum development, and assessment. She holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Rice University.

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Elaine Cooney Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis

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Elaine Cooney is professor of electrical and computer engineering technology at IUPUI. She is the author of RFID+ The Complete Review of Radio Frequency Identification. Her areas of focus include analog circuits, radio frequency, signal processing and engineering technology education assessment. She holds an MS in electrical engineering from Purdue University.

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

Developing a Rubric to Assess Critical Thinking in Assignments with an Open-Ended Component Keywords: Critical Thinking, Rubric, Open-Ended Problem Solving


The ability to think critically is vital to success in engineering and technology practice. Employers in these fields, however, consistently identify critical thinking as one of the skills that is not sufficiently developed in new college graduates, and call upon engineering and technology educators to address this obvious need. Unfortunately, critical thinking is a developmental skill that cannot be taught simply by the usual methods – step-by-step instruction followed by repetitive drills – used for other technical skills. Critical thinking must instead be nurtured through practical experience solving problems with appropriate guidance and reinforcement. One very effective context for developing such skills is in open-ended assignments with no single “right” answer, to which students must apply not only their technical knowledge, but also an element of critical judgment, to determine which approach among many possible will yield the most reasonable and applicable results.

For educators, a key component of nurturing critical thinking is learning to recognize and reinforce it when it happens, or nudge students toward such behaviors when it is not happening but should be. Toward that end, we have developed a rubric to assess critical thinking during several phases (initial design or set-up; testing of method; evaluation of results) of open-ended assignments in engineering and technology. The rubric is designed to be generally applicable to open-ended assignments at every level (freshman through senior) in engineering and technology, allowing users to track the development of critical thinking skills as students progress through the curriculum. We present the rubric and preliminary results from applying it to two different open-ended assignments.


Critical thinking, the ability to analyze carefully and logically information and ideas from multiple sources, is a vitally important skill for practicing engineers and technologists. Engineering problem-solving in real-world settings requires navigating complex and sometimes contradictory information, synthesizing conflicting goals into an attainable set of requirements, and evaluating and choosing among multiple possible approaches even when there is not a clear “best” path forward. Yet critical thinking is among the skills employers most frequently identify as lacking in new graduates1. Moreover, the 2006 National Survey of Student Engagement revealed that at least at IUPUI, engineering and technology students identified critical thinking as a slightly (but statistically significantly) smaller component of their educational experiences than students in other disciplines2,3.

Clearly, fostering critical thinking in engineering and technology education will improve these outcomes. A previous study3 surveyed the educational literature, with a particular

Alfrey, K., & Cooney, E. (2009, June), Developing A Rubric To Assess Critical Thinking In Assignments With An Open Ended Component Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4902

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