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Engaging Freshman Engineers Using the Paul-Elder Model of Critical Thinking

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD V: Increasing Engagement and Motivation of First-year Students

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.529.1 - 25.529.13



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Paper Authors

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Angela Thompson P.E. University of Louisville

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Patricia A. Ralston University of Louisville


Jeffrey Lloyd Hieb University of Louisville

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Jeffrey Hieb is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. His research interests include the use of technology in engineering education, secure operating systems, and cyber-security for industrial control systems.

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Engaging Freshman Engineers Using the Paul-Elder Model of Critical ThinkingThe XXX School of Engineering is a large, urban, institution in the southeast. Like many engineeringschools, it has recently added a requirement that all incoming freshman take “Introduction toEngineering.” This course covers a wide variety of topics pertinent for freshmen engineering students.Two major course components are department presentations and critical thinking. One entire classmeeting (2 hours) is devoted to each of the seven degree granting engineering departments at the school(seven class meetings out of a total of ~28 meetings). The initial goal of these presentations was tointroduce the department, its faculty and research areas to freshman prior to the beginning of the falladvising schedule. In the past years, course faculty observed that many students were not activelyengaged in the presentations. Critical thinking, long a part of engineering as well as most otherprofessions, became an explicit part of the Introduction to Engineering course in response to theUniversity’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). The University of XXX’s QEP, i2a, is focused onbuilding undergraduate students’ critical thinking skills, and the Paul-Elder critical thinking frameworkwas adopted by the school as part of the QEP. A specific course outcome is that students are able toexplain the structure of the Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework, and use the framework to analyzeand evaluate thought. Prior experience in this class, and in professional development workshopspertaining to critical thinking, has led the instructors of this course to believe that students need asignificant amount of repeated practice using the framework. One exercise that is excellent forachieving this goal is to have students analyze an article, a textbook chapter, or a lecture, by identifyingthe elements of thought. This paper discusses the creation of a series of specific assignments intended toserve the dual purpose of increasing engagement in the departmental presentations and re-enforcing thePaul-Elder framework for critical thinking.The assignment faculty developed is a variation on Nosich’s Logic of a discipline [1] which is calledanalyze the discipline. Students are required to analyze each departmental discipline, based largely onthe department’s presentation, by identifying the elements of thought as they relate to that discipline.The assignment is a one page list of prompts (built directly from the elements of thought), and iscustomized for each discipline. The assignment for Chemical Engineering is shown in figure 1.Freshmen are given a hard copy of the assignment right before the presentation. It requires students toidentify and explain each of the eight elements of thought as applied to the particular discipline, whichshould foster better understanding and appreciation of the discipline. This has an added benefit ofhelping students prepare for engineering careers where more and more complex and global problemsmust be solved by interdisciplinary teams.To assess the efficacy of this approach, student artifacts from multiple sections are tracked, starting withthe first department presentation through the last. It is expected the quality of the responses to eachdepartment’s “Analyze the Discipline” assignment will improve, and the authors will have data for thepaper. Students are also being given an IRB approved survey at the end of the semester with twospecific questions about the exercises. Analysis and presentation of the survey results and performancetracking date will be provided in the paper to assess the effectiveness of this approach and identifydirections for future work. Figure 1. Assignment for Chemical Engineering PresentationReference[1] Nosich, Gerald, Learning to Think Things Through, Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005.

Thompson, A., & Ralston, P. A., & Hieb, J. L. (2012, June), Engaging Freshman Engineers Using the Paul-Elder Model of Critical Thinking Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21287

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