Critical Thinking Development In Undergraduate Engineering Students From Freshman Through Senior Year: A 3-Cohort Longitudinal Study

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Patricia A Ralston
Cathy L Bays


Critical Thinking Assessment, Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework, Longitudinal Cohort Group Study, Undergraduate Engineering


Critical thinking is considered a necessary learning outcome for all college students and essential for academic and career success.  There are many challenges to developing a comprehensive approach to teaching and assessing critical thinking skills. Although the literature has many examples of the incorporation of critical thinking and assessment into courses, longitudinal studies following engineering students through their undergraduate career are lacking.  This study assessed the impact of using the Paul-Elder Critical Thinking Framework to enhance undergraduate students’ critical thinking skills with the hypothesis: There will be a significant increase in undergraduate students’ critical thinking abilities from the freshman to the senior year with the explicit and strategic incorporation of critical thinking assignments. The research question was, “How do the critical thinking skills of undergraduate engineering students change as they progress through the engineering program with the explicit and strategic incorporation of critical thinking assignments?” The study was a descriptive, longitudinal study of three engineering student cohorts as they progressed through the four year undergraduate program. The study was approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board. There was a statistically significant increase in critical thinking scores over the four years for each of the three cohorts. Integrating and evaluating critical thinking assignments into engineering curricula is possible, but a major challenge to critical thinking assessment using a holistic rubric is training engineering faculty in their use.  The results are encouraging, and participating faculty agree; but sustaining these efforts to imbed critical thinking assignments throughout the engineering college curriculum will require effort and administrative support.


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