(78d) A Software for Learning Quantitative Critical Thinking By Chemical Engineering Students

Lim, E. W. C., National University of Singapore
Critical thinking is an important component of many medium-complexity and high-complexity jobs in various industries. It is also an important life-skill that is valuable to the individual as well as the workforce at large. Despite the importance and interests ascribed to this life-skill by governments, employers and educators, the teaching of critical thinking is seldom infused explicitly into the curriculum of an undergraduate programme. Based on the result of a covert pedagogical experiment conducted on second-year Chemical Engineering students in the initial phase of the current study, an important gap in engineering education in helping students develop higher order thinking skills was apparent. Engineering graduates may not be adequately equipped with the ability to apply critical thinking within the engineering domain and towards quantitative evaluation of engineering systems, referred to as quantitative critical thinking. The approach of repeated practice was applied in this study to develop an intervention for enhancing quantitative critical thinking skills by Chemical Engineering students. The intervention is in the form of a software, referred to as a Quantitative Critical Thinking (QCT) software, developed using the Matlab programming language. This software is programmed to generate detailed calculation steps to typical engineering design problems encountered by Chemical Engineering students that are imperfect. In other words, the engineering design presented by the QCT software for any given design problem would contain weaknesses, flaws or even errors. Students utilized the software to practice identifying weaknesses, flaws and errors in design calculations and then derived better or correct designs by applying concepts and knowledge acquired in class. The extent of achievement of the intended learning outcome was measured quantitatively by comparisons of performances in the final examination between students who have and those who have not utilized the QCT software to apply a repeated practice approach towards their learning of quantitative critical thinking. A positive correlation between frequency of usage of the software and performance in the quantitative critical thinking question in the final examination was observed, indicating that the software had been effective in improving this learning outcome.