Many students will say it is a dry subject. And Dr Liu agrees it can be hard to engage the students, especially for those with a phobia of numbers.
Yet Dr Liu Qi Zhang of Decisions Sciences has managed to win an Outstanding Educator Award for his work with students. This award recognises dedicated and innovative teachers who set new benchmarks in teaching.
What is decision science? Dr Liu says, simply, that it is the “science of making decisions”. Every day, managers have to make many decisions. They are faced with a mountain of data. If they know which data to collate and analyse, they can use the insights gained to make optimal decisions for their companies.
He cites a real life case, which he also teaches in his class. For example, did you know when buses make fewer right turns, the traffic on the road moves faster, and less CO2 is emitted? This is based on real data collected in a study he had undertaken for LTA. LTA is now using the data to plan optimal routes for its buses and for better traffic flow on the roads.
Or when he worked with MRT to study train load optimisation, to track when commuter traffic is heaviest. This data on passenger flow has been used to plan train schedules as well as the operational roster for train drivers.
Data data data – you have to embrace it. He makes this point to all his students during his first lesson with his DSC 107 and 2008 classes. He cites the joint research study by IBM and MIT which shows that the 200 top-performing companies in the US rely on Big Data to make their decisions.
He points his students to that future: Any enterprise, including the corporation they join, or hope to set up one day, will need to use data and analytics as a driving force, simply because the business environment changes so fast.
Besides using motivation, another method which he finds really engages his students is “flipped classroom teaching”. Students prepare for lessons by watching videos on theories and methodologies. Then in class, they apply what they have learnt on real or simulated cases. So the lessons become interactive and force the students to grapple with real-life issues.
Inspiration, integration, interaction – Dr Liu has won his students over too.