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OR, Poker, and Teaching

It is a lovely morning here in New Zealand, and the sun is rising over the bay that my house overlooks. So naturally I am wandering around the web.

Gary Carson’s Math and Poker blog is one that I regularly follow (not the least because he points to this blog). He writes about the role OR plays in understanding poker and about how OR is taught:

Part of the problem that operations research has in getting recognition is the way we teach it — it’s taught as a bunch of algorithms for the most part. Even when it’s taught as a bunch of models to be applied to real problems, the models are taught as members of a tool kit. Seldom do we teach OR as a process of using models to abstract or isolate the elements of a problem that are critical to decision making related to that problem.

I think OR education needs to put more of a focus on using the model and less focus on solving the model. I think students would form a deeper grasp of what OR is all about if that was done. Stuff like analysis of residuals and sensitivitey of LP solutions are just too important to be glossed over.

I teach at a business school and we have moved much more to teaching about using models for real-world business decisions. Things like sensitivity do end up taking a backseat, however, since without understanding the underlying algorithm/mathematics things like dual values are just mysterious black boxes. The challenge is, I think, how to get enough of the fundamentals across so people can confidently and correctly use the resulting models. And I think we are all over the map on this at the moment, to the detriment of the field.