A Systematic Approach To Teaching Critical Thinking Skills To Electrical And Computer Engineering Undergraduates

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Karla Conn Welch Conn Welch
Jeffrey Hieb
James Graham


Critical Thinking, Engineering Education, ABET


Coursework that instills patterns of rigorous logical thought has long been a hallmark of the engineering curriculum.  However, today’s engineering students are expected to exhibit a wider range of thinking capabilities both to satisfy ABET requirements and to prepare the students to become successful practitioners.  This paper presents the initial results from a systematic effort to incorporate broader critical thinking instruction and assessment into electrical and computer engineering education as part of a university-wide quality enhancement program.  All incoming freshmen are given explicit and implicit instruction in critical thinking in ENGR 100: Introduction to Engineering and other engineering fundamentals courses, using the Paul-Elder framework of critical thinking to define and operationalize critical thinking.  This critical thinking foundation is reinforced later in the disciplinary courses so that students integrate critical thinking with the basic principles and practices of engineering.  In the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) program, at the sophomore level, students use critical thinking skills which were developed during their engineering fundamentals courses, to analyze requirements and constraints which would apply in real-world design projects.  At the junior level, similar use of critical thinking is applied in an introductory computing methods course; and at the senior level, critical thinking skills are again strengthened and assessed in the capstone design course and in the professional issues and current topics seminar.  The latter course emphasizes understanding of professional ethics and current topics in electrical and computer engineering.  Initial data from this pilot implementation indicates statistically significant improvement in critical thinking skills in ECE students who have progressed through this sequence, and as a side benefit, it appears that writing skills also improve.


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