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Introducing Critical Thinking To Freshman Engineering Students

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Innovations in First Year Programs

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.798.1 - 15.798.13



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Paper Authors


James Lewis University of Louisville

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James E. Lewis, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals in the J. B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville. His research interests
include parallel and distributed computer systems, cryptography, engineering education,
undergraduate retention and technology (Tablet PCs) used in the classroom.

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Jeffrey Hieb University of Louisville

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Jeffrey L. Hieb, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky. His research interests include cyber security for process control systems, secure operating systems, Tablet PCs in education, and engineering education.

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David Wheatley University of Louisville

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David Wheatley, Sr. is a Ph.D., P.E. Chemical Engineer with 28 years industrial experience with
the DuPont Company, where he held positions in process/product research, plant technical support and process design and implementation. Retired from DuPont, he is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville, Speed School of Engineering. His current academic interests include the areas of chemical process control and engineering education.

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

Introducing Critical Thinking to Freshman Engineering Students


In support of the University of Louisville’s recent quality enhancement program (QEP) focused on critical thinking, the JB Speed School of Engineering is modifying selected core courses to include explicit discussion and/or assessment of discipline specific critical thinking. As a common course for all entering engineering students, ENGR 100 - Introduction to Engineering was the logical course to introduce critical thinking to engineering students and prepare them for the critical thinking demands they will experience in their future discipline specific courses and careers. This paper presents a discussion of approaches undertaken since 2008, in Introduction to Engineering, to introduce freshmen engineering students to critical thinking. Also presented are recent 2009 revisions to the components of the course, such as the reworking of the case studies in an effort to encourage students to demonstrate critical thinking. Explicit discussions with the students regarding the reasons for time and effort being spent on case studies and critical thinking were also added to the course. The number of critical thinking assignments was increased, expanded, and further clarified from the previous year and some assignments were also redesigned to allow for some peer reinforcement during intermediate stages. Statistical analysis of a pre and post assessment of critical thinking showed no statistical significant change in the students’ critical thinking from the beginning to the end of the course. Based on written assignments and oral presentations, the instructors hypothesize that students did not grasp specific critical thinking concepts to the degree desired for the course. Possible modifications to the assessment and course are discussed in the conclusions.

1. Introduction

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) now requires all accredited schools to design and implement a quality enhancement program. In 2007, the University of Louisville adopted as its quality enhancement program (QEP) the requirement that all schools within the university, including the school of engineering, develop and implement an on-going and school wide program to “improving the critical thinking skills of undergraduate students and to more effectively prepare them to contribute to society”1. The JB Speed School of Engineering has developed its plan and made progress towards its implementation. The alignment of critical thinking improvement with ABET outcomes is also a motivating factor in the school of engineering’s efforts to comply with the university’s QEP. The recently introduced freshman experience course, Introduction to Engineering, is an important component of the plan and its implementation. As the required introductory class for incoming engineering students, the course is ideally suited to provide students with explicit critical thinking instruction. Critical thinking has been an explicit part of the instruction in Introduction to Engineering for three years and improvements continue to be made each year in how critical thinking instruction is made explicit. Assessment of the quality of critical thinking is also required by the schools plan and the university’s QEP. The Introduction to Engineering courses includes explicit critical thinking assessment; but this has proved to be more difficult to implement. This paper describes improvements to the thinking instruction in Introduction to Engineering that have resulted from assessments from the previous years. Section two describes the school’s overall critical thinking

Lewis, J., & Hieb, J., & Wheatley, D. (2010, June), Introducing Critical Thinking To Freshman Engineering Students Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16434

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