San Antonio, Texas
June 10, 2012
June 10, 2012
June 13, 2012
Engineering Management, Engineering Economy, and Industrial Engineering
25.159.1 - 25.159.15
Improving the Modeling Capabilities of Students in an Operations Research CourseAbstractA pilot experiment for improving skills of operations research (OR) students in formulatingoptimization problems is developed and implemented. The pilot experiment, as described byChelst and Edwards (2005), is called the Lego® furniture. In this experiment, a furniturecompany has two types of resources available (eight small and six large pieces) and producestwo types of products (tables, made of one large and two small pieces, and chairs, made of onelarge and two small pieces). Profit for a table is $16 and for a chair is $10. The students are thenpresented with two sets of questions: The first set asks them to define the product mix thecompany has to manufacture, the relationships with its level of resources, and the economicalgoal of the company. The second set of questions asks students to comment on the nature of theinformation (deterministic versus stochastic and static versus dynamic) and the datarequirements.Industrial Engineering students at the bachelor and master level were given the Lego® furnitureproblem to formulate as an optimization problem defined by the decision variables, the objectivefunction, and a set of constraints (See picture below). This exercise serves as an introduction tothe OR course. It complements lectures, seminars and case studies frequently used in this type ofcourses.Students at the bachelor level are considered to come from a homogeneous population while thestudents at master level come from different backgrounds (business, natural sciences,mathematics, and engineering). In this pilot study, we observed that master students in theexperimental group (Fall 2010) statistically improved their modeling capabilities, measuredduring their midterm by using three standard formulation problems: a minimum-cost dietproblem, a multiproduct inventory control problem, and a staff scheduling problem. Theextension of the pilot study continues in two directions. First, we are adding anotherexperimental group (Fall 2011) and second, we will analyze backgrounds of the master studentsin the two experimental groups to see if they explain the improvement of modeling capabilities.After presenting the results of our pilot study, a discussion about the general state of teachingmodeling capabilities in Operations Research courses validated the importance that this topic hasfor engineering departments. Engineering faculty agreed on the need for improvement in thedevelopment of a formulation-of-the-problem attitude among students.In general, the results of our study showed an improvement in student modeling abilities as wellas high student satisfaction with the described experiment. Master level students, alreadyexposed to the concepts of modeling and optimization, are slightly less satisfied than bachelorlevel students that have never been exposed to the same concepts. Both, master and bachelorlevel students show an improvement in their modeling abilities.
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