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Using Case Studies to Enhance the Critical Thinking Skills of IE Students

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Industrial Engineering Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Industrial Engineering

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Paper Authors


Alexandra Chronopoulou University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Alexandra Chronopoulou is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the Department of Industrial & Enterprise Systems Engineering. Her main research interests are in the areas of statistical inference for stochastic processes with long memory, stochastic simulation, stochastic modeling and financial engineering. Dr. Chronopoulou received her Master in Computational Finance, and her Ph.D. in Statistics from Purdue University, respectively in 2008 and 2009. Before joining the University of Illinois, she has held a post-doctoral position in INRIA at Nancy (France), and she was an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and at the City College of New York (CUNY).

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Kelly J. Cross University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Dr. Cross completed her doctoral program in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech in 2015 and is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is involved with multiple educational research projects with faculty and graduate students at UIUC. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion, teamwork skills, assessment, and identity construction.

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Douglas M. King University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Douglas M. King, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Ehsan Salimi University of Southern California

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Ehsan has obtained his PhD from Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering department at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015. He is currently a postdoctoral scholar at Industrial and Systems Engineering at University of Southern California.

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The most challenging aspects of teaching probability and statistics to engineering students are the theoretical nature of the topic and the disconnection of the material taught with real-world engineering problems. Although the engineering curriculum in most cases has been updated and expanded to incorporate group work and project-based learning, most of the mathematical oriented courses are still taught in a passive manner.

Our goal is to enhance students’ critical thinking by integrating case studies to our introductory course in probability and statistics. This is typically a sophomore-level core course in the industrial engineering curriculum. Students who complete this course, should be able to understand the role of uncertainty in engineering models, apply critical probability concepts (e.g. independence, expectation, variance), identify and analyze discrete and continuous random variables, and formulate and conduct statistical analyses of observed data.

One key innovation that we implemented is the introduction of real-world data-driven case studies. We wish to expose our students to engineering problems that will help them relate the material taught in class with their own major. The primary enabling technology is statistical programming with Python. The case studies are introduced as group assignments and are motivated in class or discussion sessions. Students select their own groups and in the end of each case study, they do a peer-evaluation in order to assess the degree of in-group collaboration. In this way, students build valuable competencies, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. We have also updated the way the students are being evaluated; therefore, case studies are graded based on rubrics that clearly communicate our expectations to the students. Finally, to track the progress and evaluate the success of the above innovations, we have created an attitudes survey (beginning/end of the semester) and an informal early feedback survey (middle of the semester).

Based on the feedback we got from the students, as well as their grades in the case studies and exams, we are confident that the implemented innovations improved our students’ critical thinking and trained them in working in groups. Furthermore, by having them work in realistic case studies, they gained a deeper understanding of statistical concepts, enhanced by the necessary technical foundations in theory and programming.

Chronopoulou, A., & Cross, K. J., & King, D. M., & Salimi, E. (2016, June), Using Case Studies to Enhance the Critical Thinking Skills of IE Students Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27137

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