Audience Participation: Bringing INFORMS Conferences Back to the Classroom
Many of us are missing class to be here. Depending on what tasks we left behind (sorry about the test, BA265!), our students may be enjoying our absence. I’m sure most of us feel that we become better researchers and teachers in the long-term as a result of being here. But perhaps our students aren’t aware of how professional conferences that we attend directly benefit them as well.
For example, I’m teaching a Management 200 level class this semester, the aforementioned BA265. A student team presented on a NASA case in the book, about how mistakes in decision making led to the Challenger and Columbia disasters. One of the challenges I have when teaching Management is explaining how technical analysis changes when done from a management perspective rather than an analyst perspective. (Quick example: a manager may have control over settings options and outcomes, whereas an analyst may have to take them as given).
On Monday, I heard an excellent keynote talk by Nancy Currie-Gregg about her time at NASA. This talk gave me some key insights with which to improve the classroom discussion of the NASA case. For one, Nancy talked about how over time, the institutional memory of disaster waned. When she went into space, the memories of Challenger were relatively fresh, and so she updated her will and left letters for her children. But several years later, when she talked to a would-be astronaut, she noticed that astronaut did not take such precautions. This makes a vivid point about how institutional memory changes the way problems are modeled or approached.
Secondly, she explained how safety was a budget item for the project managers. By itself, that sounds rather innocuous. But for a project manager trying to optimize their project performance, it creates a perverse incentive to cut safety expenditures in order to fund other important aspects of the project. This presents a vivid example of one way bad decisions happen: they are the correct solution to the wrong problem, so to speak.
Finally, I became aware of a new resource book, titled “Managing the Unexpected,” (by Weick and Sutcliffe) which will be useful in generalizing the NASA story for my class (book was cited in below slide via Nancy’s talk)
Thus, I look forward to being able to give my class additional insights on the NASA case, directly from an astronaut’s perspective. And as for you: what’s one benefit of this conference that you can directly take back to your classroom next week?