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Applied Disciplines: A Critical Thinking Model for Engineering

R. J. Niewoehner
United States Naval Academy, USA


Richard Paul's critical thinking model was adapted to the challenge of engineering education, and published in July 2006 as a guide to Engineering Reasoning. Paul's model is briefly described and exemplified by questions engineers ask in practice. This paper describes classroom exercises employing the model which are suitable for undergraduate and graduate engineering program.


The evaluation of our thinking as engineers requires a vocabulary of thinking and reasoning. The intellect requires a voice. Richard Paul and Linda Elder, from the Foundation for Critical Thinking, have proposed a critical thinking model documented in various sources ([1], [2] and [3]), including over a dozen Thinkers’ Guides that apply this model to diverse disciplines (e.g.- [4]). 

Engineers and scientists are quite comfortable working within the context of conceptual models. We employ thermodynamic models, electrical models, mathematical models, computer models or even physical models fashioned from wood or clay. Here we apply a model to the way in which we think, an architecture whose purpose is aiding the analysis and evaluation of thought, that we might improve our thought. A new thinkers'  guide, Engineering Reasoning [5], applies this model to the engineering enterprise. This paper introduces this Thinkers’ Guide as a tool for engineering educators and students, summarizing its content and suggesting several exercises for its use in support of engineering course and project work.

The guide follows Paul's model, providing a framework for analyzing and evaluating engineering reports, designs, graphics, and entire disciplines. It articulates the questions that exemplify maturing engineering reasoning. Several examples are provided of both excellence and disaster in engineering reasoning. The model is also applied to areas which touch engineering such as creativity, craftsmanship, and ethics.

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