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Refining A Critical Thinking Rubric For Engineering

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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

Measurement Tools

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1022.1 - 15.1022.16



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Paper Authors


Patricia Ralston University of Louisville

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Dr. Patricia A. S. Ralston is Chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. She holds a joint appointment in Engineering Fundamentals and in Chemical Engineering. Dr. Ralston teaches undergraduate engineering mathematics and is currently involved, with other Speed faculty, in educational research on effective use of Tablet PCs in engineering education and the incorporation of critical thinking in engineering education. Her fields of expertise include process modeling, simulation, and process control.

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Cathy Bays University of Louisville

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Dr. Cathy L. Bays is the assessment specialist for the university’s regional reaccreditation Quality Enhancement Plan. In this role she provides leadership across the 8 undergraduate units by demonstrating a broad knowledge of assessment, facilitating unit-specific assessment projects and outcomes, providing faculty development on assessment topics, and supporting the scholarship of assessment. For 15 years she was a faculty member in the School of Nursing at the University of Louisville, serving as Director of the Undergraduate Nursing Program for 5 of those years.

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

Refining a Critical Thinking Rubric for Engineering Abstract

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology in 2000 revised accreditation criteria to require program assessment according to eleven outcomes that all require critical thinking skills. Critical thinking can be incorporated into engineering classes in a variety of ways including writing assignments, active learning strategies, project-based design experiences, and course redesign. Clearly, accurately and consistently assessing critical thinking across engineering courses is challenging. In 2007 the University of Louisville selected the Paul-Elder critical thinking framework for use in all undergraduate courses. However, few assessments have been developed using the Paul-Elder critical thinking framework.

Assessment of the ABET outcomes and assessment of critical thinking can be often be accomplished most effectively using rubrics. ABET defines a rubric as a set of categories developed from the performance criteria that define and describe progression toward meeting the components of work being completed, critiqued, or assessed. A holistic rubric assesses student work across multiple criteria as a whole while an analytic rubric assesses student work on each component of the assignment. Many papers have emphasized the importance of critical thinking in engineering programs and even more demonstrate the use of rubrics for assessing the ABET outcomes. Moreover, rubrics are available that assess critical thinking in engineering and different rubrics are available that assess critical thinking using the Paul-Elder critical thinking framework. However, no rubric, either holistic or analytic, was found that assessed critical thinking in engineering education using the Paul-Elder critical thinking framework.

The literature on assessing critical thinking in engineering and rubrics for critical thinking will be summarized and it shows that accurately and consistently assessing critical thinking across engineering courses is challenging. The process for developing and validating a holistic critical thinking rubric, based on the Paul-Elder critical thinking framework, created for use in engineering education courses as part of a longitudinal educational research project will be explained. The rubric, developed through a professional collaboration of individuals with expertise in the discipline of engineering and those with expertise in rubric development, will be described and the challenges in training faculty to use it will be explained. Initial validation of the engineering specific critical thinking rubric was done by engineering faculty using the rubric to assess an artifact from a first year Introduction to Engineering course. This process is described highlighting the importance of inter-rater reliability, uniform application of the rubric to critical thinking artifacts in all courses that are part of the longitudinal critical thinking assessment, and helping faculty understand the differences in grading an artifact and rating it according to the rubric.

1. Overview

Section 2 of this paper gives a brief background on critical thinking in general, a short review of critical thinking primarily with respect to engineering education, and explains why the Paul- Elder framework was selected by the University of Louisville as a specific model to guide the implementation and emphasis of critical thinking throughout the university and engineering curriculum. Section 3 discusses the relationship between critical thinking and the ABET

Ralston, P., & Bays, C. (2010, June), Refining A Critical Thinking Rubric For Engineering Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16577

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: © 2010 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