INFORMS Annual Conference  

INFORMS Annual Meeting 2012, Phoenix, AZ, October 14-17

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2012 Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium (TEC)

by Patrick Noonan on October 14th, 2012

On Saturday, before the main conference began, the Hyatt was already becoming a busy place. As the site of this year’s Combined Colloquia – Future Academicians, Future Practitioners, and Teaching Effectiveness – the lobby and meeting rooms were the gathering spots for a diverse mix of participants and presenters.

As the Chair for this year’s Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium, I got my first look at what happens on those pre-meeting Saturdays, and it was a great experience.

In the Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium, our participants represented a wide range of INFORMS members. Some were just finishing their Doctorates, others were wrestling with their first real teaching responsibilities, still others were old hands just taking the opportunity to devote a day to reflecting on teaching and learning. Some were from engineering departments, many from business schools; some represented public institutions (including one service academy), others private ones. Collectively we were optimizers, schedulers, decision and risk analysts, statisticians, modelers, and nearly every other flavor of the INFORMS community.

All were there to hear from – and discuss with – a terrific team of experts in OR/MS education. Over the course of a very full 9-hour day, the participants learned a lot, of which we can present only a brief summary:

  • Donna Llewellyn (Georgia Tech) spoke about “what we know about teaching and learning.” The research on learning tells us a lot about what works and why, and provides important frameworks for thinking about sound educational practice. Considering a short list of well-understood factors goes a long way in making our course designs and interactions with students more effective.
  • Jill Hardin Wilson (Northwestern) provided more of this context for teaching by focusing on “mental models.” Students arrive already loaded with mental models – ways of thinking about and organizing their understanding of how the world works – and we need to work with those existing models, often challenging them, and occasionally disrupting them.
  • Peter Bell (The Ivey School, Univ. of W. Ontario) made the case for “bringing the real world into the classroom.” He offered a wide range of prescriptions for doing so, from pedagogical suggestions (e.g., activities, cases, projects) to institutional ones (e.g., rethinking how we label and position ourselves and our courses). He also shared some views on the meaning of the elusive “analytics.”
  • Jeff Camm (Univ. of Cincinnati) demonstrated his approach to “teaching exploratory optimization,” in which he challenges students to think about what questions and out-of-model issues a real world client would be thinking about. Students learned new modeling tricks, but also valuable practical perspectives.
  • Susan Martonosi (Harvey Mudd College) described how to incorporate field projects into a curriculum, reminding us of the enormous value of taking students “off road.” The complexities and complications of the real world reminded her of a challenging trek in Africa, inspiring her title, “Pretty cars don’t go here.” However, she surveyed a variety of less-daunting ways to start incorporating project experiences.
  • Finally, Patrick Noonan (yours truly, from Emory University) provided a quick overview of how to use cases and discussion leadership as another way to bring active learning into our classrooms. Teacher centered learning is effective for some of what we do, but it has cognitive, philosophical and practical limitations. There are a variety of ways to add cases to the mix and make learning more active, enjoyable, and effective.
  • We were fortunate to have such thoughtful facilitators throughout the day, but it was the participants who really made the day work. The questions and discussions we were able to elicit brought the material to life, and spread the learning around. (Side note: I’ve been teaching now for 20 years, and my office window sill has no shortage of shiny recognitions for, well, appearing to know what I’m doing – but I myself found myself taking lots of notes in every session. Even the oldest dogs can learn new tricks, especially when it comes to teaching and learning!)

    Many thanks to the entire group for devoting their day to sharing their ideas and experiences!

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