There was a time when a career in engineering could be developed for decades in a watertight compartment without anything related to art permeating it. That is what I experienced in the 1980s when I was a young female engineering student and felt that a great dichotomy loomed over me like an unbearable shadow: the leitmotif of my scientific life was mysteriously intertwined with my artistic and cultural development. Engineering society forced me to keep my artistic-narrative self away from my logical-scientific ego, preventing many creative aspects, disruptive ideas and diversity of points of view from emerging. Today, in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, many institutions are designing new educational approaches in engineering that comprehensively include artistic and narrative methodologies. As an example of this, we can see the large number of publications that are presented at some of the most important conferences on education of the IEEE, for example EDUCON, FIE and WEEF [1,2,3].

I would like to share my reflections on the themes that guided educational research in teaching engineering during the first two decades of the 21st century: first, the introduction of the concept of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) that helped to implement Richard Paul and Linda Elder’s teachings of critical thinking in a structured way [4]; second, the concepts of flow and the psychology of discovery and invention, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which helped to reaffirm the notion of the social aspect of creativity [5]; and finally, the formulation of transversal and digital skills requirements of the Education 4.0 framework, which marked the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the field of education and the consequent adaptation of the previous approaches for current Generation Z students [6].

Jerome Bruner showed that critical thinking is not only the active and careful analysis of any belief in light of the foundations that sustain it, but that, for thinking to be truly effective and not a mere occurrence or an irregular succession of ideas, it must involve going through two steps: first, a state of doubt and perplexity, which represents an obstacle of the mind for the thoughts to flow; and second, an act of searching, hunting and grabbing to find the idea that clears the doubt [7]. These were the foundations of early STEM approaches until a few years later Georgette Yakman and other researchers created the concept of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Mathematics) as a new andragogic approach that integrates art and design concepts into STEM projects, with the clear goal of promoting better understanding of abstract scientific concepts [8]. In the last decade, a large number of projects have emerged that were considered within the STEAM approach, and were perceived as highly creative. In some cases, however, students still failed to have the ability to disruptively transform ideas and solutions, and the results are limited to mere incremental innovations [9]. The most commonly observed problem has been that, due to the enormous pressure from teachers to measure the level of creativity developed (either with the Torrance creativity tests or indirectly evaluating fluency, originality, flexibility and elaboration [10]), there remained a number of unresolved issues, all related to cognitive biases that occur more frequently in students enrolled in engineering courses: cognitive fixation, premature closure, gender perspective regarding the balanced value of a vertical adaptive factor and a lateral innovative factor, and anchoring at low levels of cognitive understanding [11].

After a series of experimental studies conducted with engineering students over the past five years, my research team and I have found that interventions aimed at jointly improving both thinking modalities, critical and creative, are the most successful in increasing, not just the student academic performance (including understanding abstract concepts) but also to strengthen engagement and motivation [12]. I think it is important not to limit the methodological design to the inclusion of cutting-edge technological tools, because the avalanche of digital platforms in the classroom promote the idea that a technological tool could replace cognitive effort and even produce a rebound effect on students’ attitude: mask creative laziness and reduce intellectual commitment in their own learning process [13].

Creativity in Criticality is the name we have given to this holistic approach, taking into account that criticality and creativity are complex and multivariate constructs that involve not only the cognitive process but also other metacognitive phenomena related to perceptions and emotions. In this sense, to develop some critical skills of the 21st century, required for future engineers -broad perspective view, taking risks, embracing contradictions, branching ideas- we have designed STEAM didactic activities that are true social experiences -in John Dewey’s sense- and that explicitly include metacognitive tools from the field of fine arts [14].

Engineering students of Generation Z can and want to develop their future career by taking advantage of all the potential that nurtures them in their personal life, that inspires them culturally, that connects them in their interaction with social networks and defines them in the handling of new technologies. I am convinced that the Creativity in Criticality approach is an effective method of accomplishing all of the above while fostering the specific temperament dispositions that teaching engineering requires.

Further Reading. Here I share some websites and some other pages of innovative initiatives in higher level education that may be interesting to broaden the perspective on this topic:


[1] C. Poindexter, D. Reinhart, B. Swan and V. McNeil, “The University of Central Florida STEAM program: Where engineering education and Art Meet,” 2016 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), 2016, pp. 1-7, doi: 10.1109/FIE.2016.7757414.

[2] J. H. Choi and B. K. Hwang, “The Concepts, Strategies and Application of STEAM Education in South Korea,” 2017 7th World Engineering Education Forum (WEEF), 2017, pp. 466-469, doi: 10.1109/WEEF.2017.8467045.

[3] A. A. Zaher and G. A. Hussain, “STEAM-based Active Learning Approach to Selected Topics in Electrical/Computer Engineering,” 2020 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), 2020, pp. 1752-1757, doi: 10.1109/EDUCON45650.2020.9125367.

[4] L. Paul, R., Elder, “Critical Thinking: Strategies for Improving Student Learning, Part II.,” 2008. Accessed: Aug. 27, 2020. [Online]. Available:

[5] M. Csikszentmihalyi, “A systems perspective on creativity,” Creat. Manag. Dev. Third Ed., pp. 3–17, 2006, doi: 10.4135/9781446213704.n1.

[6] P. Caratozzolo, A. Alvarez-Delgado, and S. Hosseini, “Creativity in Criticality: tools for Generation Z students in STEM,” in IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), 2021, pp. 596—603.

[7] J. Bruner, Actual minds, possible worlds. 2009.

[8] G. Yakman, “Recognizing the A in STEM Education,” Assoc. Middle Lev. Educ., no. August, pp. 15–16, 2012.

[9] E. J. Cilliers, “The challenge of teaching Generation Z. PEOPLE,” Int.J.Soc.Sci., vol. 3, pp. 188–198, 2017.

[10] K. H. Kim, “Can we trust creativity tests? A review of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT),” Creat. Res. J., vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 3–14, 2006, doi: 10.1207/s15326934crj1801_2.

[11] J. G. Lu, M. Akinola, and M. F. Mason, “‘Switching On’ creativity: Task switching can increase creativity by reducing cognitive fixation,” Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process., vol. 139, pp. 63–75, 2017, doi: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2017.01.005.

[12] P. Caratozzolo, A. Alvarez-Delgado, and S. Hosseini, “Perspectives on the use of Serious-Storytelling for Creative Thinking Awareness in Engineering,” in Proceedings – Frontiers in Education Conference, FIE, Oct. 2020, vol. 2020-October, doi: 10.1109/FIE44824.2020.9273994.

[14] M. Hernández-de-Menéndez, A. Vallejo Guevara, J. C. Tudón Martínez, D. Hernández Alcántara, and R. Morales-Menendez, “Active learning in engineering education. A review of fundamentals, best practices and experiences,” Int. J. Interact. Des. Manuf., vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 909–922, Sep. 2019, doi: 10.1007/s12008-019-00557-8.

[15] M. Williams, “John Dewey in the 21st Century,” J. Inq. Action Educ., vol. 9, no. 1, Oct. 2017, Accessed: Aug. 26, 2020. [Online]. Available: