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The Practice Of Critical Thinking Among Engineering Students

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Conference

2009 Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Measurement Tools

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count

8

Page Numbers

14.1240.1 - 14.1240.8

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/4569

Download Count

66

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Paper Authors

biography

Elliot Douglas University of Florida

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Elliot P. Douglas is Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. His educational research interests include qualitative methods, critical thinking, and active learning in the engineering classroom.

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

The Practice of Critical Thinking Among Engineering Students Keywords: critical thinking, qualitative, constructivism

Abstract

Critical thinking is generally recognized as an important skill, and one that is a primary goal of higher education. Within engineering, although critical thinking does not appear on the required list of ABET outcomes many programs have adopted critical thinking as an ability which they wish to impart to their students. With the stated importance of critical thinking, it is vital to have a clear understanding of what critical thinking is. For the most part, conceptualizations of critical thinking have been approached from the philosophical perspective. That is, the definitions are not rooted in empirical studies, but rather in philosophical statements about what critical thinking is or ought to be. Most studies of critical thinking examine the critical thinking abilities of students using a quantitative instrument that operationalizes a particular conceptualization. What appears to be missing from the literature are empirical studies that examine the practice of critical thinking in order to understand the actual strategies used by students when they participate in what educators would consider to be critical thinking tasks. The lack of such an understanding makes it difficult to design effective interventions which will teach students how to realize the goal of being able to think critically. The purpose of this study is to examine how critical thinking actually occurs in practice. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with five civil engineering students at a large, public university. Students were shown problems from a standard critical thinking instrument and asked to solve them. The interviews involved asking the students about strategies they used in solving the problems, as well as questions relating to critical thinking in general. Thematic analysis of the interview transcripts identified five primary themes: reading comprehension, organizing information, using prior knowledge, using opinion, and making decisions. However, the ways in which these themes appeared varied considerably among the students. These results point to the variety of ways in which students can be expected to think critically. Understanding this variety is the first step towards developing interventions that address what experts might consider to be “poor” critical thinking and teaching students how to address engineering problems in a deeper, more critical way.

Introduction

Critical thinking is generally recognized as an important skill, and one that is a primary goal of higher education. As pointed out by Mason1 much of the rhetoric regarding education and its reform revolves around teaching students to think and question critically. Within engineering, although critical thinking does not appear on the required list of ABET outcomes many programs have adopted critical thinking as an ability which they wish to impart to their students.

With the stated importance of critical thinking, it is vital to have a clear understanding of what critical thinking is. For the most part, conceptualizations of critical thinking have been approached from the philosophical perspective. That is, the definitions are not rooted in empirical studies, but rather in philosophical statements about what critical thinking is or ought to be. Some of the most well known conceptualizations are those of Ennis, Paul, McPeck, and Martin (for a review, see reference1). An approach that comes closer to an empirical definition is

Douglas, E. (2009, June), The Practice Of Critical Thinking Among Engineering Students Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/4569

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