Revising Bloom’s Taxonomy wrt Engineering Education

Posted on April 15, 2011

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Author:  Sanjay Goel, http://in.linkedin.com/in/sgoel

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Benjamin Bloom [1] classified the cognitive process into six major levels arranged in a hierarchical order. Beginning with the simplest level and increasing in complexity, the cognitive levels are: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.    

Anderson and Krathwohl [2] modified Bloom’s taxonomy by adding another dimension of knowledge types: factual, conceptual, procedural, and meta-cognitive. They renamed the earlier hierarchy of levels from nouns to verbs. They also swapped the position of the uppermost two levels. Using Bloom’s taxonomy in its original or revised form for deciding the learning objectives of school education is perfectly fine. Recently, a lot of engineering or engineering education research also has been based on these models.   For example, on December 20th, 2009, ACM Digital library showed 407 papers referring to Bloom’s taxonomy out of which 214 papers were published 2007 onwards.  

Our studies [3] [4] [5] showed that engineering students report more effective learning when they are engaged in higher order cognitive activities. Even in the opinion of professional engineers, faculty should engage students in higher level cognitive activities like analyse, design, develop, implement and so on. However, most of the engineering faculty give assignments and activities that engage students in lower level cognitive activities like calculate, explain, prove (studied theorem, studied method), define (studied definitions) and so on.   In a survey, our respondents from software industry recommended that more than 70% pedagogic engagements of computing students should be at upper three levels.  

A revised version wrt engineering education

The level of evaluation involves (i) designing of criteria and also (ii) considerations of larger context, human values, and ethics.  Hence, it is appropriate to keep it at the highest level.  In fact, some ‘create’ activities may require lower cognitive effort than ‘evaluate,’ whereas some of them will be based upon serious evaluation. Hence, in order to avoid simplistic hierarchy, I propose to keep ‘create’ and ‘evaluate’ at the same level. I have proposed a further extension of Bloom’s taxonomy by adding the next higher level of ‘mentoring’ in this ladder. A brief summary of the adaption and extension of Bloom’s taxonomy for the purpose of engineering education is as follows:

1.  Remember: recognizing, recalling

2.  Understand: interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, and explaining

3.   Apply: executing, implementing

4.   Analyze: differentiating, organizing, attributing, checking, critiquing using existing criteria

5A.   Create: generate, plan, and produce  

5B.   Evaluate: (i)  ‘Critiquing’ based on self-designed/chosen criteria, (ii) ‘Deciding’ in the light of larger context, human values and ethics

6.      Mentor: coaching juniors for skills and providing guidance in their projects

There is a need to further refine the upper levels (3-6) in order to enhance engineering educators’ understanding of the pedagogic possibilities. I feel that such an expansion of these levels into sub-ladders will help the engineering educators design appropriate learning objectives and instructional interventions for their courses [6].  The proposed expansion of levels is outlined here.  

The sub-levels for ‘Analyze’ are proposed as follows:

  1. Analyze data (quantitative as well as well as qualitative)
  2. Analyze problems
  3. Analyze complex ill defined problems
  4. Analyze systems 

With reference to the expansion of the level of ‘create’ from a single level into a sub-ladder, I find Sternberg’s taxonomy of creative contributions [8][9]  as a useful source that can be used by engineering educators. This taxonomy has not yet been used by engineering education researchers. These sub-levels for ‘Create’ are follows:

  1. Paradigm preserving:  replication, adaption
  2. Paradigm forwarding:  forward incrementation, advance forward incrementation
  3. Paradigm rejecting by  paradigm redirection and  reconstruction,
  4. Paradigm rejecting by  paradigm  re-initiation

‘Evaluate’  comprises of  ‘Critique’  and  ‘Decide’ activities.  Critique activity can be carried out either using an existing criteria (without considering other options) or it may require choosing/adapting/designing a new criteria for evaluation.  In my view, the former type of critique essentially reduces to an ‘analyse’ level activity. ‘Critique”  at ‘evaluate’  level includes  choosing/adapting/designing the criteria for evaluation.  

Because there are many subjective aspects related to software development, I have used the four levels in Minger’s framework for critical thinking [10]  to define the four sub levels of ‘critique’ activity  for revising the Bloom’s taxonomy as follows:

  1. Critique of rhetoric: argument analysis. 
  2. Critique of tradition: critical attitude towards actions in organizations, cultures, traditions, and assumptions that underpin these beliefs.
  3. Critique of authority:  being skeptical of one dominant view.
  4. Critique of objectivity: being skeptical of information and knowledge. Implies the meta-cognitive process in critical thinking.

 Similarly,  I have used the four decision making styles proposed by  Rowe and Boulgarides [11] to define the four sub levels of ‘decide’ activity  for revising the Bloom’s taxonomy as follows:

          1.   Directive style:   This style is characterized by a low tolerance for ambiguity and rational way of thinking. It uses limited data and considers limited alternatives. 

          2.   Behavioral style:  This style is characterized by a low tolerance for ambiguity and intuitional way of thinking. Uses limited data and considers limited alternatives. 

           3.   Analytic style: This style is characterized by a high tolerance for ambiguity and rational way of thinking. It involves consideration of large amount of data from multiple sources, and evaluation of multiple alternatives. 

           4.   Conceptual style:   This style is characterized by a high tolerance for ambiguity and intuitional way of thinking. It also involves consideration of large amount of data from multiple sources, and evaluation of multiple alternatives. 

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This revision of Bloom’s taxonomy is part of a comprehensive multi-dimensional framework for designing pedagogical engagements [6] that has also been used to design some  instructional innovations and interventions.   I shall be very happy to collaborate with interested faculty (any discipline and subject) to help them transform their courses in the light of this  framework for designing pedagogical engagements.

References:

[1]   Bloom Benjamin S. and David R. Krathwohl, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain, New York, Longmans, 1956.

[2]    Anderson, L., & Krathwohl, D. E., A Taxonomy for learning teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives [Abridged]. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc., 2001.  

[3]  

[4]   Sanjay Goel, What is high about higher education: Examining engineering education through Bloom’s taxonomy, The National Teaching & Learning Forum, Vol. 13, pp 1-5, Number 4, 2004.

[5]  Sanjay Goel and Nalin Sharda, What do engineers want? Examining engineering education through Bloom’s taxonomy, Proceedings of 15th Annual AAEE Conference, pp173-185,  2004.   Presentation is available at http://slidesha.re/guMBDP.

[6]   

[7]   Sanjay Goel, An overview of Selected Theories about Student learning, Indo-US Workshop on Effective Teaching and Learning at College/University Level, IIIT Delhi, 10-12 Feb, 2011.

[8]  Sternberg’s Propulsion Theory of Creativity

[9]   Robert J. Sternberg, Wisdom, intelligence, and creativity synthesized, Cambridge University Press, UK, pp 124-146, 2003.

[10]  Minger’s Framework for Critical Thinking

[11]  Taxonomy of Decision Making wrt Software Development

[12]  Project-centric Evolutionary Teaching in Software Development Education

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