Asee peer logo

Enhancing Critical Thinking in a First-Year Engineering Course using a Hands-On Study of Vectors

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 7: Experiential Learning

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Angela Thompson P.E. University of Louisville

visit author page

Dr. Angela Thompson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. Dr. Thompson received her PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Louisville. Her research interests are in biomechanics and engineering education, particularly related to critical thinking instruction.

visit author page

author page

Brian Scott Robinson University of Louisville


Jaqi C. McNeil University of Louisville Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Jacqueline McNeil is an Assistant Professor for the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at University of Louisville. She is investigating nontraditional student pathways in engineering. She finished her PhD in December 2014, titled, “Engineering Faculty Views of Teaching Quality, Accreditation, and Institutional Climate and How They Influence Teaching Practices.” Her research is focused on engineering faculty perceptions of quality and on nontraditional students in engineering. McNeil received her master’s degree in Engineering Management from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT) in August 2011. She was a mentor and tutor for American Indian students at SDSMT during that time. She worked as a mining engineer in industry between graduating with her engineering undergraduate degree and starting her graduate studies. Contact her at

visit author page

Download Paper |


Enhancing Critical Thinking in a First-Year Engineering Course using a Hands-On Study of Vectors

This evidence-based practice paper describes development of a hands-on activity that was integrated within existing curriculum for first-year engineering students in an Introduction to Engineering course. Critical thinking instruction is a key component of this course and is demonstrated to students through instruction and application of the Paul-Elder (PE) critical thinking framework. In past years, students applied the framework primarily through a series of written assignments. This year, the instructors aimed to enhance students understanding of the PE framework and development of critical thinking skills through a collaborative team project investigating vectors. Students mapped out paths on campus using a tape measure and compass, then described their paths using vectors. They were asked to reflect critically on the results, considering sources of error in their measurements, and write a team report explicitly addressing elements from the PE framework. Student surveys conducted at the end of the semester suggested a better student impression of critical thinking development as a result of the added vector assignment compared to previous years with only written assignments. A review of student reports revealed that, while the majority of students were adequate at applying at least some of the key critical thinking elements specific to this assignment, only a small percentage of them appeared to successfully conduct a thorough application of the PE framework. As a result of this work, several improvements to the course and assignment have been identified and will be implemented in future iterations of the curriculum.

Thompson, A., & Robinson, B. S., & McNeil, J. C. (2016, June), Enhancing Critical Thinking in a First-Year Engineering Course using a Hands-On Study of Vectors Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26694

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: © 2016 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