Developing Critical Thinking Skills Through Dynamic Simulation Using An Explicit Model Of Thinking

A major skill area of CDIO is Part 2.4 Personal Skills and Attitudes, which subsume skill sets relating to good thinking. This paper takes the position that critical thinking skills can be explicitly taught, much in the same way as other skills. Students need to clearly understand what good thinking actually entails, have opportunities for active and experiential application in real-world contexts, as well as receive clear and useful feedback from expert professionals.

In this paper, we firstly present our model of thinking, which has been derived from extensive review of the literature and our own research in cognitive modelling engineers as they solve real world problems. The model identifies the key types of thinking involved in such problemsolving as well as the cognitive processes involved. This provides a practical heuristic model of good thinking, which can be taught explicitly and used for purposes of assessing thinking.

Secondly, focusing on the chemical engineering context, we outline the various ways in which critical thinking skills can be effectively taught in a range of learning contexts and, in particular, dynamic simulation.

Thirdly, we present our research findings on the student learning experience in relation to the development of critical thinking skills from using dynamic simulation to solve chemical engineering problems. The research employs a rigorous qualitative methodology involving observation and in-situ and post activity questioning of student performance relating to solving problems. A broad phenomenographic approach was employed to identify the range of variation in student’s cognitive approaches and heuristics when solving the problem scenarios presented. Some comparisons are also been made in terms of performance on simulated activities between student groups explicitly taught critical thinking skills and those not explicitly taught these skills.

The paper concludes with an optimistic frame on both the explicit teaching of critical thinking and the particularly useful role of dynamic simulation as an effective pedagogic tool for developing the range of critical thinking skills.


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