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Beat the instructor! Make cupcakes! Teacher receives international attention for his creative methods

Haskayne’s Brent Snider seeks to engage students in operations and supply chain management
November 30, 2016

A Haskayne instructor is receiving attention from around the world for his innovative approach to engaging students in the classroom.

Brent Snider, a senior instructor and teaching fellow in operations and supply chain management, has published two successful classroom exercises in the Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education that have generated inquiries from instructors in dozens of countries. “I see no reason that learning shouldn’t be engaging as well as challenging,” says Snider.

In his first exercise, "Beat the Instructor: An Introductory Forecasting Game," Snider wanted to take a different approach after realizing that there was a high level of student apathy towards learning forecasting techniques when using the traditional lecture approach.

Beat the Instructor game fuels student interest

In this exercise, co-authored with Haskayne’s Janice Eliasson, student groups are provided historical data and asked to forecast demand for various products. In addition to trying to outperform their peers, students are challenged to Beat the Instructor.

The instructor uses various forecasting techniques and typically wins the competition easily and quickly. Rather than being demotivated, students ask the instructor how he or she forecasted so well and so quickly. Subsequently, they become significantly more interested in learning those forecasting techniques. The reason the activity is so effective is because it shows the students the value of the knowledge prior to the learning taking place. “Beat the Instructor is what I refer to as a ‘teaser’ exercise because after students have struggled to solve the problem while seeing their instructor quickly solve it, they are much more eager to learn the instructor’s technique.”

Since its publication in 2013, the exercise has garnered 67 requests from faculty members in 22 countries.

Cupcake icebreaker warms students to the course

Teaching operations and supply chain management can already be a challenge because the majority of undergraduate business students don’t really know what the fields of operations and supply chain management are and many question why they have to take the required course.

To address this concern, Snider and Nancy Southin of Thompson Rivers University wrote an icebreaker exercise called "Operations Course Icebreaker: Campus Club Cupcakes."

On day one of his class, students develop a cupcake business. Students must work through such operations management questions as how many orders can be completed in a shift, how many trays would be needed, whether a discount should be offered, and identifying the business risks. Since cupcakes require a multi-stage process (baking, then toppings), the exercise leads to a discussion on supply chain management concepts of subcontracting and postponement.

Since the exercise was published in the journal five months ago, and promoted in a blog post, Snider has received requests by 36 universities from as far away as Peru, Saudi Arabia and New Zealand looking to adopt the exercise.

Growing interest in operations and supply chain management

In recent years, interest in operations and supply chain management has grown at Haskayne; among fourth-year students, operations and supply chain management concentrations combined now rank third, trailing only accounting and finance.

Developing, refining and measuring the effectiveness of classroom exercises are all components of the growing field of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Approaches that are proven to improve student engagement and learning beyond traditional lecture can then be published in refereed teaching journals, enabling faculty members from around the world to adopt the approach into their courses. Furthermore, unlike copyrighted cases, SoTL-published innovations are completely free to use for both faculty and students.

“It is inspiring to see how many faculty from places like the University of Cambridge, the University of Michigan, and so many more universities from around the world are interested in adopting exercises developed here at Haskayne,” says Snider.

University of Calgary instructor Brent Snider's teaching tool for forecasting garnered 67 requests from faculty members in 22 countries.