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Teaching Critical Thinking Using Understanding By Design

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Reaching Students: Innovations to Curriculum in ET

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1155.1 - 13.1155.10



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Paper Authors

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Sergio Sgro Eastern Kentucky University

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Steve Freeman Iowa State University

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

Teaching Critical Thinking using Understanding by Design Curriculum Development Methods “It is only when students apply what they are learning to actual situations or problems that they come to see the value in what they are learning”2 (p. 4). Introduction Academia is buzzing with the idea of teaching students to think critically and creatively. This article introduces the reader to the use of the Understanding by Design5 methodology, also known as the “Backward Design Process”. This is an approach to develop technical courses that aim to cultivate higher-order skills in students. By incorporating recommended critical thinking design features, this article provides examples and a framework for the development of new courses or the revision of current courses. A list of websites devoted to critical thinking and Understanding by Design tools is included at the end of this article for additional information.

Critical Thinking Critical Thinking can be defined as, “the art of thinking about thinking in such as way as to: 1) identify its strengths and weaknesses, and 2) recast it in improved form (where necessary)”3 (p. 22). Chaffee1 defines critical thinking as, “An active, purposeful, organized process that we use to carefully examine our thinking and the thinking of others, in order to clarify and improve our understanding” (p. 51). This is further warranted by Paul and Elder’s3 observation about the importance of creativity in critical thinking in the following manner: The most important sense of creativity in thinking, the sense of thinking as a making, as a process of creating thought, as a process that brings thoughts into being to organize, shape, interpret, and make sense of the world – thinking that, once developed, enables us to achieve goals, accomplish purposes, solve problems, and settle important issues we face as humans in a world in which rapid change is becoming one of the few constants (p. 7). In this sense, creativity refers to a level of high-quality thinking where the mind is able to both generate and judge how information gravitates towards a system of meanings3. Research suggests that both the student and society benefit from the development of critical and creative thinking6. Zhang7 hypothesizes that critical thinking requires both ability [to think critically] and disposition [propensity for thinking critically]. Some introductory courses may appropriately be designed with only lower-order skills (i.e. recognize, recall, remember). However, courses bearing heavily on critical and creative thinking require higher-order skills and corresponding assessments as shown in the Staircase to Critical & Creative Thinking4 (See Figure 1). Although successful academic programs depend on many good characteristics, Zhang7 finds two characteristics to be notable; they are, “…(a) facilitates critical thinking and (b) recognizes a variety of intellectual styles” (517).

Sgro, S., & Freeman, S. (2008, June), Teaching Critical Thinking Using Understanding By Design Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3576

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