In the Master of Science in Business Analytics program at Foster School of Business, we don’t crunch numbers without context. The Operations Research Data Analytics course taught by Professor Michael Wagner is a key example of how the MSBA program at Foster sets itself apart from traditional graduate programs in business analytics and data science. The goal of Wagner’s course focuses on teaching students to create value by applying analytical techniques for insightful business solutions, while simultaneously preparing them with the competency to oversee analytics professionals—it is audience-centric, business-minded, data analytics storytelling.
Finding the Story in the Data
“If you cannot tell a story your work can be meaningless. That’s the first important thing we had to understand about our results before explaining them to the audience,” shared current MSBA student, Connie Cui, about Professor Wagner’s approach to data. But Professor Wagner doesn’t just preach storytelling, he applies it in class. In teaching students how to apply techniques to different situations, he provides context: what is the business issue, how can it be solved, what technique can be applied, and how do you explain it to the audience-in other words-he tells a story. Professor Wagner manages to keep storytelling a focal point of class, while digging into the deeper complex world of RStudio to introduce various models to students and their application to different company problems. “About 70% of the course will be focused on very technical parts, like how to run a model or build it in R, why we chose the model, and what this result means,” shared Connie. “But the other 30% is really about learning how to share results with stakeholders, and that’s where storytelling can make a big difference.”
Flexing Critical Thinking Skills
Selecting the right type of business analysis for any given task can be tricky. Students must learn to think critically and identify opportunities for applying business analytics in real time. Wagner’s approach to facilitating learning allows students to flex this specific skill. “Professor Wagner doesn’t directly give us answers. He lets us think about the question first and use our minds to come up with solutions. After we have gone through our ideas, he explains what he saw,” shares Connie. “He encourages us to come up with many answers as long as they have the same result. It’s a good way to learn that your answer is not the only answer.” In addition to class time, students apply their learnings outside of class with four case assignments. These assignments can be done individually or in groups, but in the end, each student must submit a solution that is unique. Structuring the assignment parameters this way allows students to broaden their perspective, and increase their critical thinking skills as it relates to determining solutions and applying their modeling application skills.
Though there is an emphasis on finding solutions individually, students are not expected to tackle the course on their own. The required text for this course, The Analytics Edge, is favored among students. “The book has detailed explanations to teach you step-by-step which is really helpful. It has been able to answer all of my questions regarding models or techniques,” shared Connie. Additionally, a teaching assistant hosts review sessions and is available for additional support. Supplemental reading materials are added to round out the available resources that support students as they increase their knowledge of RStudio and discover the best approaches to a variety of business problems, all while learning how to share their insights with stakeholders in a meaningful way.
Broadening the Scope
This course teaches MSBA students to go beyond the basics of data and number output. On a high level, Wagner’s course may seem to be focused on technical programming, but when you look past the course description on the syllabus, you see that there is more than meets the eye. The data expands past the numbers, as students form the ability to share a problem and solution in an empathetic way, learn to engage audiences, and how to manage other analytics professionals. “I think it broadened my thinking,” reflected Connie. “I always thought from an accounting point of view, which is my background, but now I know there are more things to consider to solve a problem in business.”