About this paper

Appears in:
Pages: 5382-5387
Publication year: 2009
ISBN: 978-84-612-9801-3
ISSN: 2340-1117

Conference name: 1st International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-8 July, 2009
Location: Barcelona ,Spain

EXPERIENCES IN OPERATIONS RESEARCH TEACHING: SPREADSHEETS, ECONOMIC INSIGHT, AND EXPERIMENTATION

J. Niño-Mora

Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (SPAIN)
This paper discusses the author’s experiences in teaching Operations Research (OR) courses in several universities over the last decade to students of diverse backgrounds (including business, economics, and engineering) at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels, at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, Madrid’s Carlos III University, and the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua.

The paper focuses on the effective use of spreadsheet software (Excel) as a learning tool. OR is an interdisciplinary discipline that aims to help make better decisions via a scientific approach. It is based on developing mathematical models of decision problems, which are solved by computer to obtain optimal actions relative to given objectives. While the scope for application is wide, encompassing decision-making in both public-sector and private enterprises, along with control of technological systems, its deployment has been hindered by the gap separating the needs of its potential users and the mathematical skills required to formulate OR models. The need to overcome such a gap motivated the introduction of spreadsheets into OR education in the 1990s. The key idea is the realization that spreadsheets are the most widespread analytical tool, constituting a de facto standard. Thus, instead of requiring students who are not OR specialists, but who will be potential users of OR, to learn the subject using sophisticated software (i.e., algebraic modeling languages), such a trend promotes use of spreadsheets. This trend has gained increasing acceptance, specially in business schools. Many OR textbooks have since incorporated spreadsheet models as teaching tools.

Yet, such a trend has also been subject to criticism, and a clear best-practice standard has not yet emerged on how to make the most of spreadsheets to enhance students’ OR understanding and skills development. Some critics have pointed out that inadequate use of spreadsheets can actually lead to undesirable effects such as passive learning and lack of real understanding, as students are left to mechanically manipulate spreadsheet models.

This paper discusses an approach that the author has found effective in practice, which not only uses spreadsheets as a modeling and computing tool, but emphasizes their role as experimentation tools, promoting the development of intuitive understanding and skills by active experimentation on OR models. Such an approach also draws on and fosters the development of economic insights, which are essential to interpretation and use of OR models.

The paper describes in detail such an approach, as well as the experiences gained through their application at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels. The overall assessment is that through the proposed approach students gain both an intuitive understanding of theoretical concepts and practical problem-solving skills.
@InProceedings{NINOMORA2009EXP,
author = {Ni{\~n}o-Mora, J.},
title = {EXPERIENCES IN OPERATIONS RESEARCH TEACHING: SPREADSHEETS, ECONOMIC INSIGHT, AND EXPERIMENTATION},
series = {1st International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies},
booktitle = {EDULEARN09 Proceedings},
isbn = {978-84-612-9801-3},
issn = {2340-1117},
publisher = {IATED},
location = {Barcelona ,Spain},
month = {6-8 July, 2009},
year = {2009},
pages = {5382-5387}}
TY - CONF
AU - J. Niño-Mora
TI - EXPERIENCES IN OPERATIONS RESEARCH TEACHING: SPREADSHEETS, ECONOMIC INSIGHT, AND EXPERIMENTATION
SN - 978-84-612-9801-3/2340-1117
PY - 2009
Y1 - 6-8 July, 2009
CI - Barcelona ,Spain
JO - 1st International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
JA - EDULEARN09 Proceedings
SP - 5382
EP - 5387
ER -
J. Niño-Mora (2009) EXPERIENCES IN OPERATIONS RESEARCH TEACHING: SPREADSHEETS, ECONOMIC INSIGHT, AND EXPERIMENTATION, EDULEARN09 Proceedings, pp. 5382-5387.
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