Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Identifying Pertinent Elements of Critical Thinking and Mathematical Thinking Used in Civil Engineering Practice in Relation to Engineering Education

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Identifying Pertinent Elements of Critical Thinking and Mathematical Thinking Used in Civil Engineering Practice in Relation to Engineering Education

Article excerpt

Ability to think independently is essential to succeed in today's globally connected and rapidly evolving engineering workplace (NAE, 2012). Therefore, it is timely and crucial to infuse real-world experiences into engineering education in addition to the existing excellent technical education. In view of that, program outcomes listed in the manual of Engineering Accreditation Council for the Board of Engineers of Malaysia (EAC/BEM, 2012) have emphasized on competency of engineering graduates in dealing with complex engineering problems, critical thinking skills development and evidence-based decision making in the curriculum. In addition, complex real-life problems often demand complex solutions, which can be obtained through higher level thinking processes (King, Goodson, & Rohani, 2008). A research conducted at a Malaysian private university shows that among the seven elements of soft skills to be implemented at all higher learning institutions in Malaysia, critical thinking and problem solving skills are the most important soft skills to be taught to engineering students (Idrus, Dahan, & Abdullah, 2010). However, comprehensive studies of critical thinking and an understanding of what critical thinking is, within the context of engineering are hardly to be obtained from the available literature (Douglas, 2006, 2012a, 2012b).

Similarly, critical thinking is generally recognized as an important skill and a primary goal of higher education. Yet, the current scenario to facilitate engineering students' learning of engineering mathematics seems to be inadequate in enhancing students' ability to apply the mathematical knowledge and skills analytically and critically (Felder, 2012). Consequently, it makes the transfer of learning across the students area of study does not occur as efficiently as would have expected (Rahman et al., 2013; Rebello & Cui, 2008; Townend, 2001; Yusof & Rahman, 2004). The transfer of knowledge remains problematic and needs to find ways for better integrating mathematics into engineering education (Rahman et al., 2013). This approach is thought to support mathematical thinking and create the necessary bridge to link mathematics to problem solving in engineering (Rahman et al., 2013). Thus, an approach to support mathematical thinking and create the necessary bridge to link mathematics to problem solving in engineering is indispensable.

In addition, technical core of knowledge and breadth of coverage in mathematics, and the ability to apply the knowledge to solve engineering problems, are essential skills for civil engineers (BOK2 ASCE, 2008). This notion is parallel with the fact that all areas of civil engineering rely on mathematics for the performance of quantitative analysis of engineering systems. Therefore, mathematics has a vital role in fundamental of engineering education for the 21st century engineers (Henderson & Broadbridge, 2007; Uysal, 2012). Furthermore, a central component in current reforms in mathematics and science studies worldwide is the transition from the traditional dominant instruction which focuses on algorithmic cognitive skills towards higher order cognitive skills, particularly critical thinking (Aizikovitsh & Amit, 2009, 2010; MOE, 2012). However, there are no extensive descriptions delineating critical thinking elements for the engineering mathematics courses.

On top of that, findings from the previous studies have shown congruence between critical thinking and mathematical thinking in the real civil engineering workplace context (Radzi et al., 2011; Radzi et al., 2012). However, there is a lack of literature which indicates comprehensive overview, and research that rigorously investigates the interrelation and interaction between critical thinking and mathematical thinking in real-world engineering practice. In addition, there is no theory pertaining to the understanding of the process which may relate the mathematical thinking to the critical thinking. …

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