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Communication Instruction In An Engineering Introductory Statistics Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Learning to Communicate with Engineers and Non-Engineers

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.304.1 - 13.304.9



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Paper Authors


Judith Norback Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Judith Norback is the Director of Workplace and Academic Communication in Georgia Tech’s Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. She received her B.A. magna cum laude from Cornell University and her Masters and Ph.D. from Princeton. Before joining Georgia Tech in 2000, she taught at Rutgers University, worked in job-related basic skills research at Educational Testing Service, and then founded and directed the Center for Skills Enhancement, Inc. Her research and curriculum development interests lie in workforce communication skills needed by undergraduate engineering students. At Georgia Tech, she conducts and coordinates workplace interviews and teaches communication skills to undergraduates. Her research has been support by the Sloan Foundation and the National Science Foundation. She has published in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication.

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Nicoleta Serban Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Nicoleta Serban is an Assistant Professor at Georgia Tecs Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Before joining Georgia Tech in 2005, she received a B.S. in Mathematics and an M.S. in Theoretical Statistics and Stochastic Processes from the University of Bucharest. Her doctoral degree in Statistics is from Carnegie Mellon. Serban conducts research in statistics and teaches courses such as undergraduate Basic Statistical Methods and graduate Time Series Analysis and Spatial Statistics. Her main research areas are in nonparametric statistics with a focus in multiple functional data analysis and spatial statistics. Dr. Serban has published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, Biometrics and Journal of Statistical Inference and Planning.

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Nagi Gebraeel Georgia Institute of Technology

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Nagi Gebraeel is an Assistant Professor in Georgia Tech’s Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering. He received his MS and PhD from Purdue University and he holds a B.Sc. in Production Engineering from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Gebraeel teaches Basic Statistical Methods and other courses. His research focuses on improving the accuracy of predicting unexpected failures of engineering systems by leveraging sensor-based data streams. His major research interests are in the areas of degradation modeling and sensor-based prognostics, reliability engineering, sensor-driven maintenance operations and logistics. Dr. Gebraeel’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, and industry.

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Garlie Forehand Georgia Institute of Technology

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Garlie A. Forehand is now a consultant in educational design and assessment. He received his Ph.D. in psychometrics from the University of Illinois and his psychology from the University of Richmond. Forehand has held academic and research positions at the University of Chicago and Carnegie Mellon University. For the past 20 years, one of his areas of research and curriculum development has been workforce communication skills and instruction for undergraduates in engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Communication Instruction in an Engineering Introductory Statistics Course #2008-2847

Abstract At Georgia Tech, instruction in communication has been incorporated into the introductory statistics class for undergraduate engineers. Communication instruction focuses on presentations to workforce professionals—clients, executives, and engineers. The communication instruction is based on interviews conducted with engineers, supervisors, and senior executives whose companies employ many engineers. Students worked in small project teams to formulate hypotheses about a set of data and to select the appropriate statistical method to evaluate the data. Student teams presented their projects at the end of the semester. In preparation for project presentation, students received workforce presentation instruction in class and in a Workforce Communication Lab set up for video review, storyboarding, presentation practice, and feedback. Assessment data focuses on student needs expressed prior to instruction and benefits described after instruction, and the value of instructional components. Examples of projects and instructional materials will be provided so the instruction can be replicated at other institutions.


Over the past decade, multiple studies have indicated the need for better communication skills for engineers [1-5]. Studies have also identified, more specifically, the importance of oral presentation skills to the advancement of engineers in the workplace [6,7]. As recently as 2007, students’ definitions of excellence in engineering education included communication skills [8].

In 2004, one study reported that, of 73 top-ranked U.S. and Canadian engineering schools surveyed about communication instruction for engineers, 33 percent reported integrating instruction “in which communication specialists and engineering professors collaborate [9]. Many schools have integrated the instruction with various engineering courses, particularly the Capstone Design course [10-16].

Student projects and communication skills instruction have already become a part of some introductory statistics courses. Projects have been included for a long time [17-20], even as far back as the 1970’s [21]. Some statistics professors have recently stressed the importance of communication skills to statistics undergraduates. In 2002, in a summary of six papers presented in a symposium focused on the importance of undergraduate statistics education (“Improving the Work Force of the Future: Opportunities in Undergraduate Statistics Education,”) one author wrote “the ability to communicate effectively is as important to the success of a bachelor’s level statistician as knowledge of the principle statistical methods in a field.”[22]. In some universities professors have added an oral communication component to their course for undergraduates [e.g.,23] . Others have added similar instruction to graduate statistics courses [24].

In this study, communication instruction focused on presentation skills was integrated into the Stewart School of ISyE at Georgia Tech Basic Statistical Methods course as a pilot project in 2006[25] and then during the Fall of 2007. This paper focuses on the results from 2007. To the best of our knowledge, the approach is unique in the following ways:


Norback, J., & Serban, N., & Gebraeel, N., & Forehand, G. (2008, June), Communication Instruction In An Engineering Introductory Statistics Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4455

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015