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ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2

Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

@ES1531/GEK1549, CELC, NUS Page 1

Learning Objectives:
By the end of the tutorial, you should be able to:
explain the importance and principles of critical thinking
explain the importance and relevance of effective communication


Preparation before class:
It is important you review the following sources and the activities in the tutorial notes so you can
actively participate in class.

1) What is critical thinking? (opinion) (This is a good introduction to the
definition of critical thinking) (A look at some principles of
critical thinking)

2) A brief history of the idea of critical thinking (The Critical Thinking Community)

3) What is critical thinking? (This site gives you basic information on critical thinking)

4) The missing basics (D.E Goldberg) (clip on 7 missing basics) (article)

5) A global engineer for the global community by Adrian Chan and Jonathan Fishbein
Journal of Policy Engagement, Volume 1, No 2 May 2009.

Activity A: Getting to know each other
Your tutor will spend fifteen-twenty minutes on an ice-breaking activity for you to get to know
each other.

One such activity could be:
Form a group (4-5 members) with students you do not know.

You are asked to choose 3 professional fields to be given 1 million dollars per field for research.
Which 3 professions would you and your group choose? Why?

NUS has asked you and your group to select 3 items to be put in a time capsule. The next
generation of NUS students will open the capsule. Why did your group choose these items?
ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2
Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

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What is critical thinking?

What does it mean to think critically? What does thinking mean at all?

What do the quotations reveal about critical thinking?

Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is
thinking that makes what we read ours.
John Locke

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.

Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.
Thomas Edison

Cogito ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am.)
Ren Descartes

Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.
Carl Sagan

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few
engage in it.
Henry Ford

Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is

But if thought is to become the possession of many, not the privilege of
the few, we must have done with fear. It is fear that holds men back
fear lest their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the
institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear lest they
themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed
themselves to be.
Bertrand Russell

You may refer to more quotes at

ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2
Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

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There are many definitions of critical thinking among researchers. This is because critical
thinking has its roots in philosophy and psychology. In recent times, universities have given
emphasis to critical thinking as a generic skill that is central to many, if not all, subjects.

Historically, the teaching of critical thinking was based on what is sometimes called the
philosophical approach. This approach focuses on the qualities and characteristics of the person,
emphasising application and training in the rules of deductive logic, fallacies, reliable inference-
making relying on statistics and research methods, and so on. On the other hand, the cognitive
psychology approach is framed in terms of cognitive skills, and focuses on the mental processes
involved in thinking.

Both the philosophical and cognitive psychological approaches enumerate a list of desirable
attributes, the former a list of perhaps idealised standards such as "reflective scepticism"
(McPeck, 1981) and the latter a list of actions and behaviours expected of critical thinkers, which
is more process oriented and procedural in nature.

Those working in the field of education have also participated in discussions about thinking. The
educational taxonomy approach arose from classroom practice and is associated with Benjamin
Bloom (1956). The taxonomy for information processing skills is one of the most widely cited
sources for educational practitioners when it comes to teaching and assessing higher-order
thinking skills. Blooms taxonomy is hierarchical, the assumption being each level has to be
mastered before one can progress to the next.

Read the following excerpts on what critical thinking is:

1. Discussions of critical thinking owe much to definitions devised by philosophers such as John
McPeck, John Ennis, John Chaffee and Richard Paul, who have moved sideways in to the area of
critical thinking research. According to McPeck (1981), critical thinking is the propensity and skill to
engage in an activity with reflective scepticism (pp. 7, 9, 152). Writers agree that critical thinking is
not a narrow form of criticality or nay-saying to the views of other people. Ideas are accepted or
rejected based on the evidence used to back those claims and this is done with a view to helping
make better decisions and arriving at the truth (Halpern, 1998, p.449; Verlinden, 2005, pp.17,3,19).
For this reason, the critical thinker finds fault with her own ideas as much as she does with those of
other people.

Robinson, S.R. (2011). Teaching logic and teaching critical thinking: revisiting McPeck. In Higher Education Research
& Development, 30 (3), 275-287. Retrieved from

2. Critical thinking has been described as a form of student learning that evokes what is higher in
higher education (Jones, 2007, p. 210). As a sub-field of logic, critical thinking is described a form of
reasoning that is focused on testing the validity of premises and the relationship between premises
and conclusions (Alfino, Pajer, Pierce & OBrien Jenks, 2008). From a cognitive psychological
perspective critical thinking can also be seen as a human activity that is focused on achieving specific
goals such as anticipating real-world problems. From this perspective, critical thinking is practical as
well as theoretical in nature (Phillips & Bond, 2004).

ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2
Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

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Hammer, S.G & Green, W. (2011). Critical thinking in a first year management unit: the relationship between
disciplinary learning, academic literacy and learning progression In Higher Education Research &
Development, 30 (3), 303-315. Retrieved from

3. Critical thinking is the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a
positive outcome. It is used to describe thinking that is purposeful, reasoned, ands goal directed -
the kind of thinking involved in problem solving, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods, and
making decisions when the thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the particular
context and type of thinking task. Critical thinking also involves evaluating the thinking process - the
reasoning that went into the conclusion we've arrived at the kinds of factors considered in making a
decision. Critical thinking is sometimes called directed thinking because it focuses on a desired
outcome. This definition of critical thinking -along with others to a lesser direct degree - emphasizes
implicitly that critical thinking takes time, energy, skill, and dedication. It is frustrating but important
for critical thinkers to be and to stay aware of that not all persons with whom we communicate with
are skilled in critical thinking or do not always exercise their critical thinking skills at every
communication event.Communication is a dialogic event which requires some level of mutual
awareness and cooperation between communicants.

Halpern, D.F. (1996). Thought and Knowledge: An Introduction to Critical Thinking. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum

4. Goldbergs 7 Missing Basics

Dr David Goldberg, Co-Director of the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering
Education is co-founder of a new movement, the Big Beacon. He was NUS Distinguished
Visitor. In 2012-13, he conducted a series of seminars and workshops for FoE students and

The following is an excerpt from Goldbergs article The Missing Basics and Other
Philosophical Reflections for the Transformation of Engineering Education.


The semester has begun. The projects are assigned, and teams of three student engineers and
their advisors are ready to go on the plant trip and find out what the project is really about. Over
19 years of advising such teams, Ive found seven important skills that students have difficulty
with. Although there is significant variation, the following composite set of difficulties is
common enough that most teams require coaching along many, if not all, dimensions discussed.

In particular, senior design students have difficulty
1. asking questions
2. labeling technology and design challenges
ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2
Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

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3. modeling problems qualitatively
4. decomposing design problems
5. gathering data
6. visualizing solutions and generating ideas
7. communicating solutions in written and oral form

Each of these is briefly considered in turn, associating each of these failings with a prominent
name in intellectual history (Solomon & Higgins, 1996):

Questions. Students go on the plant trip, and the first job is to learn what the project is, what
has been tried, what critical sources of data and theory exist, and what vendors have been 3
helpful in solving related problems. Unfortunately, most student teams have trouble asking
cogent questions. We call this a failure of Socrates 101 in recognition of that philosophers
role in teaching the world to ask.

Labeling. Engineering students learn math and science but are largely ignorant of technology
itself, exhibiting difficulty in labeling the components, assemblies, systems, and processes in
their projects. Moreover, many projects exhibit novel patterns of failure or design challenge,
and the students have difficulty giving such patterns names and sticking to those names. This
we call a failure of Aristotle 101 as the systematic naming and categorization of concepts is
often attributed to that philosopher.

Modeling. With sufficient coaching, students learn the names of extant components and
processes and are able to give names to novel patterns, but then they have difficulty modeling
design challenges qualitatively. Of course, if the problem lends itself to simple calculus or
physics computation, engineering students can plug and chug with the best of them; however,
companies dont pay real money for someone to do routine engineering calculation. Where
students have difficulty is in making lists of system elements or problem categories or in
describing how things work in words This is a failure of Aristotle 102 or Hume 101
because of the connections of those philosophers to categorization and causality.

Decomposition. With some help in understanding key causal and categorical relations the
student engineers regain their footing, and then they have trouble decomposing the big design
problem into smaller sub problems. We call this a failure of Descartes 101 because of that
philosophers discussions of the fundamental role of decomposition in the solution of

Gathering data. With the job separated into pieces, usually a number of the pieces depend
on careful data collection from the literature or from the design and execution of careful
experiments. The students first impulses are often to model mathematically, but an efficient
and effective solution often depends on simple experimentation or library work. We call this
failure to resort to empirical work or extant data a failure of Galileo or Bacon 101 because of
these individuals contribution to the creation of systematic empirical science.

Visualization & ideation. Students have trouble sketching or diagramming solutions to
problems, and more generally they have difficulty in brainstorming a sufficiently large
number of solutions. Calling this a failure of da Vinci 101 because of that individuals
ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2
Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

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renowned imagination and ability to visualize, the problem again is solved with some

Communication. Finally, the students have solved the problem, done the experiments, put
together the analyses, and largely solved the problem, and the time has come to make a
presentation or write a report, and to quote the famous line of the Captain from the movie
Cool Hand Luke, What weve got here is a failure to communicate. Calling this a failure
of Newman 101 (Paul Newman), the situation again calls for significant coaching.

Goldberg, D. (2009). The Missing Basics and Other Philosophical Reflections for the Transformation of
Engineering Education. Retrieved from

Activity B

1) From the above (excerpts 1, 2 and 3, and Article 4), what do you understand by critical

2) What are the possible barriers to critical thinking? Perhaps you could refer to the ice-
breaking activity.

ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2
Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

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3) How does working in a team help to hone critical thinking skills?

What does an engineer do?

The Faculty of Engineering website (

Engineers innovate and create all kinds of functional systems, products and services for modern living by
applying a combination of mathematical, scientific and engineering fundamentals. Engineers solve
problems and make things work better, more efficiently, and less expensively. We have to thank
engineers for modern conveniences at our homes, schools, offices, hospitals and even on ourselves (for
handphones, MP3 players and notebook computers & etc).
Engineers are designers and builders, making everything from nano-electronic devices, robots,
biopharmaceuticals, and medical equipment to skyscrapers and highly efficient transportation systems
that move millions of people in relative comfort and safety on the ground, sea, air and even in space. In
addition to pushing the frontiers of science and technology to design and create new products and
services, engineers are also involved in the planning, logistics and management of people, processes and
machinery used in the manufacture of products. Engineers ensure that the products they manufacture
are of the highest quality and meet safety standards. Engineers are also involved in marketing of
technological products and services.
Engineers administer large-scale technical, engineering and research projects by being involved in
designing, planning, organizing, allocating resources/budgets and controlling activities that have
engineering/technological components. In such projects, engineers oversee and manage teams of
technical and non-technical personnel. Engineering managers are distinguished from other managers by
the fact that they possess both an ability to apply engineering principles as well as being able to
organize, plan and manage technical projects. Engineers constantly keep pace with the ever-evolving
technology and must be adept at handling resources and budgets in order to deliver the most cost-
effective results.
Engineers not only contribute to modern technology but also to other fields including architecture, the
global environment and medicine. Our world has indeed been shaped by some of the greatest
Engineering achievements.
ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2
Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

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Activity C: In groups, discuss the following:

1) What does an engineer in your field (Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering,
Mechanical Engineering etc.) do?
2) What skills are needed to perform your job? Are they similar to those mentioned in the
article on A global engineer for the global community?
3) What is the difference between discipline specific critical thinking and general purpose
critical thinking?

What is communication?

One of the seven basics mentioned by Goldberg is communication. It has been perceived by
many that engineers are brilliant in solving problems but poor at communicating their ideas.
They know their content but are unable to communicate effectively to the audience. Judging by
what engineers do and their desire to change the world for the better, the ability to communicate
effectively is all the more essential. They need to explain and argue their position for their
engineering purpose to a wider audience. In many cases they have to engage the public.

Effective communication is also important in teamwork. As engineers need to work in teams and
increasingly in a multi-cultural and diverse workplace, expressing their ideas clearly,
contributing differing ideas and arguing which ideas are viable, become easier with better
communication strategies.

At NUS, Provost Tan also highlighted the importance of effective communicationin his blog
( November 2011.The view that being able to express
oneself clearly, orally or in written form,is reiterated in a report by Channel News Asia on a
JobStreet com. survey. Conducted in Singapore among 480 fresh graduates and 150 employers in
2012, the survey revealed that employers acknowledged the value of good interpersonal and
communication skills as well as a good command of the English language above qualifications
when hiring fresh graduates.

Activity D: In groups, discuss the following:

1) What is the relationship between critical thinking and communication?
2) What possible communication problems could an individual face?
3) What possible communication problems could a team face?
4) What strategies can you adopt to communicate effectively as an individual and as a team

ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2
Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

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Reflect on what you learned today about critical thinking and communication. What is critical
thinking and why is this module relevant to you?

Read the article below and relate it to the approach taken by the course by reviewing the course
objectives and the assignments.

A Society with Poor Critical Thinking Skills: The Case for 'Argument' in Education
ByRabbi Dr.ShmulyYanklowitz
15 August 2013

Researchers have shown that most students today are weak in critical thinking skills. They do poorly on
simple logical reasoning tests (Evans, 2002). Only a fraction of graduating high school seniors (6 percent
of 12th graders) can make informed, critical judgments about written text (Perie, Grigg, and Donahue,
2005). This problem applies to both reading and writing. Only 15 percent of 12th graders demonstrate
the proficiency to write well-organized essays that consisted of clear arguments (Perie et al., 2005).

Critical thinking and argument skills -- the abilities to both generate and critique arguments -- are crucial
elements in decision-making (Byrnes, 1998; Klaczynski, 2004; Halpern 1998). When applied to academic
settings, argumentation may promote the long-term understanding and retention of course content
(Adriessen, 2006; Nussbaum, 2008a). According to the ancient Greeks, dialogue is the most advanced
form of thought (Vygotsky, 1978). Critical thinking and dialogue are often made manifest in the form of
argument. Dialectical arguments require an appeal to beliefs and values to make crucial decisions, what
Aristotle referred to as endoxa (Walton, Reed, & Macagno, 2008). In all careers, academic classes, and
relationships, argument skills can be used to enhance learning when we treat reasoning as a process of
argumentation (Kuhn, 1992, 1993), as fundamentally dialogical (Bakhtin, 1981, 1986; Wertsch, 1991),
and as metacognitive (Hofer & Pintrich, 1997). Significant differences in approach have emerged as to
how best cultivate the skills necessary to form, present and defend an argument. Differences have
emerged as to whether the best practices include the use of computers, writing exercises, metacognitive
activities, debates, modeling, or frontal instruction. To many "argument" sounds combative and
negative but the use of argument can be constructive and generative.

Epistemological understanding becomes most evident when an individual is confronted with uncertain
or controversial knowledge claims (Chandler et al., 1990; King and Kitchener, 1994; Kuhn et al., 2000;
Leadbeater and Kuhn, 1989). It is imperative that high school students, of diverse personal, moral and
intellectual commitments, become prepared to confront multiple perspectives on unclear and
controversial issues when they move on to college and their careers. This is not only important for
assuring students are equipped to compete in the marketplace of ideas but also to maximize their own
cognitive development more broadly. Longitudinal studies focused on high school students (Schommer
et al., 1997) show a positive correlation between educational level and epistemological level. Cross-
sectional studies demonstrate that educational experiences influence epistemological development and
that it is the quality of education and not age or gender that contributes to different developmental
levels of epistemological understanding (Chandler et al., 1990; Leadbeater and Kuhn, 1989). Education is
therefore key.

ES1531/GEK1549 Critical Thinking and Writing AY2014-15 Semester 2
Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges faced by engineers in the 21st century

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Argument is a more complex and challenging cognitive skill for students than other genres of reading
and writing, such as exposition or narration. It is also more challenging for most teachers who may not
have the knowledge or experience of working with argumentative reading and writing (Hillocks, 1999,
2010). In addition, most teachers try to avoid conflict when it comes to learning (Powell, Farrar, and
Cohen, 1985).

Many teachers have observed that students sitting in classrooms today are bored by the frontal
authoritarian model of learning. For years, as a student, I was told to take out my notebook and copy
what was written on the board. A curriculum in which they are active participants and engaged in
democratic, and cognitively challenging for students works better. In the frontal model, teachers provide
the questions and answers. In the argument model, the students provide the questions and the answers
while the teachers provide the structure, the facilitation, and the guidance. Students gain the necessary
skills to be critical thinkers in a complex society with many different agendas, facts, and perspectives.

Some argue that too much autonomy is given to students in a student-centered environment. But the
risk is much greater with frontal lecture education: that our students master content but do not gain the
cognitive, moral, and epistemic development necessary to become autonomous critical thinkers. The
choice of reading matter for students is also an important factor. Students are unlikely to develop
critical thinking skills naturally when their class reading assignments consist only of narrative and
explanatory texts, as opposed to argumentative texts (Calfee & Chambliss, 1987).

The goal of an argument curriculum is to enhance the development of the responsible citizens and the
pedagogical methodology consists of cultivating argument skills, epistemic development, and moral
development. School-based nurturance of this development will lead to students' autonomous critical
thinking and their formation as responsible citizens. We must invest in the education of our youth. They
are our future!

Rabbi Dr.ShmulyYanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President
of Uri L'Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The ShamayimV'Aretz Institute and the author of "Jewish Ethics
& Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century." Newsweek named RavShmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in