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Washington State University
Carson College of Business New MIS Elective Cultivates Critical Thinking, Case by Case

New MIS Elective Cultivates Critical Thinking, Case by Case

By Sue McMurray • Photos by Debbie Compeau
From left, Ashley Ostrand, Lauren Benveniste, Madison Dutro, Edison (Eddie) Dorland.


That is a loaded question if you are a student in Professor Debbie Compeau’s Leveraging Information Technology class, a new management information systems (MIS) elective that helps students develop managerial judgment.

Flipped Classroom Cultivates Critical Thinking

Her teaching approach, a form of the “flipped classroom” model, relies heavily on active learning through a broad range of published case studies that students purchase online. Students thoroughly familiarize themselves with the details of the case prior to class so that scheduled time is spent discussing the case and generating a solution. Students are assessed on the quality of their critical thinking.

Compeau’s approach is novel to WSU and a draw for any business major. She says the class builds on what students have learned across all of their business courses and teaches them to make decisions under uncertainty.

Its integration into the MIS curriculum is timely as the intensifying focus on the development of “employability skills” is challenging many institutions to question the efficacy of their approaches to teaching, learning, and assessment.

“Many employers conduct case-based interviews,” Compeau says. “They expect prospective employees to possess several soft skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and time management to help them keep pace with changes across the business industry.”

“The title of the class really caught my eye because there is so much new technology happening so fast,” says Aaron Fisher, one of Compeau’s students. “The most important thing I learned was that communication and clear expectations are vital for all parties involved with a large tech company.”

The Value of Case Studies

From left, Aaron Fisher, Derek Askham, Joan Qafoku.

Compeau says students won’t find a lot of “right answers” in the cases they study in her class, and they often have to draw their own conclusions about whether their analyses were sound or flawed.

“That’s a little bit scary for many students,” she says. “But the capabilities they develop for applying theory, for arguing their point of view, for self-reflection, and evaluation are critical to developing managerial judgment. It prepares them to hit the ground running in their first jobs after graduating.”

Compeau assigns one case per each 80-minute class session, ultimately exposing her class to 20 cases over the course of the semester. Students must be able to articulate whether the case’s issue is a problem and if so, how serious. They analyze options for a solution, propose a management decision, and describe the steps to implement it. By working on cases from different countries, students gain exposure to global business problems.

Compeau says she and Andrew Perkins, associate professor of marketing, learned the approach before they came to WSU when they were both faculty members at Western University’s Ivey Business School in Ontario, Canada.

“I feel very strongly about the value of case-based teaching in undergraduate education. I’ve taught workshops in several countries to promote case teaching and learning, and I was really excited to bring it into the MIS program,” she says.