Today, I learned a lesson: Subjects that are popular in research are not necessarily popular among students.
This semester, I teach a graduate course about supply chain design and management in Université Laval’s business school. Besides the usual topics related to SCM, (transportation management, capacity planning, outsourcing, and so on), I wasn’t sure about which topics I should cover. At the first class of the semester, I decided to present six optional topics to the students, who voted on which subject they would like to be covered. I made myself clear that I would prepare the most popular subject for that week’s class. The topics were:
- Sustainability issues in supply chain management (green logistics, carbon footprint, etc.)
- Reverse logistics
- Advanced models for supply management;
- Advanced models for demand modeling & management;
- Anticipative planning in supply chains
- Techniques for solving large-scale mathematical models.
Topics #1 and #2 are more broad themes about SCM in general, and topics #3 to #5 mostly deal with advanced mathematical modeling techniques. While #6 is not a SCM issue, supply chain design models tend to be large-scale in general, so I figured that would be useful to them to get a glance at how we solve these models.
My guess was that topic #1 would win by a huge margin. Green logistics is quite a popular topic these days, and our university tries to develop its brand in sustainability issues, so it made sense to me that we would attract students oriented towards these topics. Reverse logistics is important in practice, but it can look a bit boring. Topics #5 and #6 are very technical and I doubted it would attract many MBA-level students. I wasn’t so sure about supply and demand management & modeling issues.
What the students wanted
It turned out that my guess was quite wrong. The votes cast were as follows:
- Sustainability: 1 vote
- Reverse logistics: 0 vote
- Supply modeling: 5 votes
- Demand modeling: 10 votes
- Anticipative planning: 3 votes
- Solving large-scale models: 6 votes.
It’s really clear who the winner is. It also tells me that this class likes mathematical models: 96% of the votes were cast on modeling issues or topics. Granted, it’s a small sample, but it certainly goes against the assumption that MBAs don’t like analytics or operations research. It also says a lot about how teaching is just as good as research for kicking you out of your shoes once in a while. That is, as long as you remain open to feedback from students.