Review: Professor Oliver Yu, OMIS, Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business

This is the third of my reviews on the professors I’ve had while an MBA student at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business . There are lots of sites out there that provide feedback and rates – ratemyprofessor is the most notable. The SantaClaraMBA Yahoo group also has a big database of comments and lots of additional information in its message archive. But only here can I write as much as I want  🙂

I review professors from a variety of perspectives.  First, I explain the context(s) under which I took the class.  Time of year, time of day, etc.  Then I talk about the quality of the class and the professor, and finally about the professor as a person.  After all, we are trying to learn about our interactions with people, so knowing that side of a teacher is critical, too.  So these would be interactions outside the classroom, etc.

The facts

I took Professor Yu?s OMIS (operations management and?something) 355 course in Spring 2008.  The course is designed around computer-based decision-making, though we do not use computers at all.  Professor Yu wanted us to understand how various computer programs that helped in decision-making were designed, rather than just sitting down with those applications and not using our brains.  I thought this was a pretty good idea.  The class section I took met at 5:30, Tuesday and Thursdays.  The course had 2 midterms, a final, and a group homework assignments (roughly 1 per session).  We also had a lot of extra credit opportunities and the professor was clearly determined to help us through the course.

Two caveats:  First, I was worried that I would not fare as well in 355 with other professors, and had heard about Yu’s extra credit and desire to help us pass the course.  Also, he has changed his curriculum a bit and now (writing in Summer 2008) has students do homework individually.  I believe the overall content is still the same, though.

Them’s the facts. Now read on for the review.

The class

There is not a whole lot to say about the class.  As I mentioned, it was about the bases for how computer-based modeling software worked, rather than the actual software itself.  As such, the examples we did in class tended to be a lot simpler than real-world scenarios.  What we could do by hand was inherently much less complex than what a computer application could do.  Yu did more and more class examples as the quarter went on, though he always did them throughout the quarter and even brought in physical representations of some of the ideas we were covering so that we could understand them better.

The book used (title forthcoming) presented most of the material in a similarly simple method, though it provided the examples on how to do the work via Excel or one of the applications on the CD-ROM as well.

The actual topics we covered included Linear and Integer Programming, AHP decision-making, decision trees, multi-stage decision trees, and a project management method knows as PERT.

The Man

Professor Yu’s background speaks a lot towards his teaching style and the resulting course experience.  Yu worked at, I believe, IBM before moving onto the Stanford Research Institute, which worked quite a bit on federal (ie – military) contracts over the years.  He clearly had a very successful career.  In an effort to express how much he liked teaching, he offered us the example that he didn’t even realize he had not been paid the first year he was at the business school.  Of course, he also mentioned that such pay was a fraction of what he made per year usually.  That is rather telling.  But the guy clearly knows his stuff.  And I truly do applaud him for using a different approach to the course and having us think about the methods behind the applications.

The problem, however, is that Yu is also clearly accustomed to working with engineers, and probably those that are his peers and equivalents in terms of skills (mathematical prowess, analytical approach, etc).  This is a problem since not all students in his class are engineers, much less ones that think the same way he does.

I will give a very simple example.  We were doing a problem that involved basic multiplication – 5 * 1,000,000.  5,000,000 right?  Well, Yu felt that having so many zeroes was unnecessary, so he just put down 50.  I will admit, I personally spent a good 30 seconds trying to figure out how the heck 5*1,000,000=50.  Meanwhile, he was doing all the other math and reducing them by the same factor.  So then I’m looking at a board full of numbers that look all wrong.  And then I’m not paying as much attention to the actual problem and example as I should be because I’m obsessed with trying to figure out what he was doing.

Now, this might be just me.  I am a highly procedural person.  Step A, step B, step C, etc.  Yu made a jump straight to C and then applied that same jump to all of the problem, and I was lost long enough to almost miss the lesson.

Another habit he had was giving us a simplified example – a grossly simplified one – to show us the method to solve a problem.  However, he did not always explain why it was so grossly simple.  We’d sit there thinking “why are we doing such an easy problem?”  Well, the reason was that he wanted us to understand the concept and the only way to do it otherwise was with a computer.  But he really needed to tell us that the examples would be so easy.

The good news is that Yu takes feedback sheets at the end of every class.  I found out at one point that many of my classmates just said stuff like ?good class? on a regular basis.  I made sure to give him real, serious feedback.  “Please explan the mathematical steps you go through rather than jumping – I have trouble keeping track when you make that jump without saying anything.”  Over time, he started providing more and more detailed information.

Another good thing, if you are hoping to just skate by, is that he basically gives you more and more the worse you do.  By the time the final came around, because students had trouble with the midterm despite rather direct examples, Yu basically was telling us exactly what would be on the final exam.  Almost to the word.  If we copied what he said, we would get at least 90%.  It was that close.

Of course, this is a good and bad thing.  I didn’t want to take a tough 357 class, but I didn’t want one where the professor made an increasing effort to pass all students through the program.  It bothered me, to be honest, and lessened the course.

So.  That’s it.  Good things and bad things.  I think I would like to work with Yu to help him improve his in-class teaching style.  Not that he’d listen, but I think he has a good approach to what could be a really, really boring topic.

Some Metrics

Metrics are of questionable use, depending on professor and what classes I have and haven?t taken.  But they might be of interest so I?ll do what I can.  These are more like comparisons than metrics but I like the word better :-).  Some rough parameters are:

  • Workload:  runs from heavy, which would be work in class, after class, individual and team, to just a lot of problem sets to basically just in-class discussion.
  • Teaching style:  spectrum runs from pure-lecture to interactive to all-over-the place.
  • Interest in students:  pretty obvious
  • Relevance to the outside world:  pretty obvious, though heavily restricted due to my background in academia

Workload:  Light to moderate
You don’t really read the book at all, and while my class did the homework in groups and now it’s individual, the work itself isn’t hard.  But if you don’t keep up things can get past you.  Going through complex decision-tree analysis can be confusing if you’re not careful.

Teaching Style:  Lecture
Yu asks for questions now and then and asks people if they understand, but he doesn?t seem to really understand our questions.  He only explains things the same way over and over.

Interest in students: High*
I put an asterisk because Yu basically wants everyone to get an A.  He was at the point where he told us, almost point blank, what would be on the final.  The questions actually on it were barely any different than his in-class examples.  So he cares about us passing, but I wouldn?t call him a passionate man or anything (nor a cold one, though).

Relevance to outside world:  Depends on what you do

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