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Guest Post: Teaching Operations at the University of Tennessee

February 2, 2012

Dr. Bogdan C. Bichescu is Assistant Professor of Management Science in the College of Business Administration at the University of Tennessee. He teaches OM in very large classes and shares his experiences with us. Click here to see his syllabus.

The introductory Operations class at the University of  Tennessee often exceeds 600 students a semester. It  meets as a single section and is required for all business majors. Therefore, the topics included aim to be relevant to a wide audience of majors. The class features concepts (such as Theory of Constraints,  lean manufacturing, and waiting line management) that  demonstrate  principles useful in the streamlining of processes in different services environments. Additional topics, such as decision analysis and project management, seek to develop students’ organizational skills and decision-making abilities. Students report finding these topics interesting and practical. 

An early format for the class included a lab component, in addition to the weekly lecture. The labs offered the opportunity to cover several different HBR cases (e.g., Manzana Insurance, National Cranberry Cooperative) and experiential simulations (e.g., variations of the Dice Game, Project Simulation) to  illustrate the concepts discussed in the lecture. Student teams were assigned various case questions and had to deliver an oral presentation of their findings. TAs were responsible for teaching the labs and grading student presentations. Overall, students enjoyed working on cases and welcomed the opportunity for interaction in the labs. 

The current format removes the labs from the structure of the class. The lecture-only format eliminates the challenge of coordinating 6-7 teaching assistants and allows for more consistent grading. However, this format makes the inclusion of cases and simulations more difficult and revives the challenge of engaging the students. To address these limitations, I made The Goal, by Eli Goldratt, a required class reading (the book never fails to generate a lively class discussion) and I created an online discussion board where students ask questions and discuss class material. Bonus points are awarded to the most active board participants. MyOMLab also helps engage students through weekly assignments which comprise a combination of quantitative problems, readings, and cases.

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