Developing the critical thinking skills of students in Civil and Building Engineering at Loughborough University.

This research investigated the critical thinking skills of undergraduate students in Civil and Building Engineering (CBE) at Loughborough University. In particular it focused on individual students’ perceptions of what critical thinking entailed, the views of staff regarding the students’ ability in this area, especially relating to final year research projects, and modules where critical thinking skills were addressed and assessed. The attitude to critical thinking by students from different cultures and countries was also examined. There are seven different programmes within CBE and differences in student ability and module content were compared and contrasted between programmes, with particular focus on modules studied during the first two years at university. The focus on modules prior to the final year of study was a result of Programme Directors and Project Supervisors reporting that students are not adequately demonstrating critical thinking skills when undertaking research-based tasks in their final year of study. A questionnaire, which was designed to gain an insight into students’ understanding of critical thinking, was completed by 39 students from five different programmes of study. In addition to preliminary discussions with all Programme Directors in the School, ten academic members of staff were interviewed to determine their views on the level of critical thinking demonstrated by the students and their own level of focus on this skill in their teaching. The findings from the questionnaires and interviews were then related to the modules of study for these programmes and a map detailing gaps in exposing students to this skill were produced. The findings show that from the student perspective the majority of those surveyed do understand what critical thinking involves and believe this to be important to their future working lives. However, from the staff perspective it appears that, in the main, students do not demonstrate aspects of critical thinking unless explicitly asked to do so and students who do demonstrate critical thinking, for example, when undertaking research projects do not do it at the level that is expected. If students are to view critical thinking as an important part of their development then it is essential that these skills are assessed in more modules. This will ensure that students enter the workplace with the ability to analyse situations, challenge the views of others and make informed decisions.