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Teaching

Professor Marlene A. Smith


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Marlene Smith's Teaching Philosophy

Statistics is a subject that lends itself well to the business curriculum. Unfortunately, the subject has been dreaded by generations of business students. Its reputation is one of meaningless mathematics and irrelevance to the practice of business. In my mind, that age-old perception is valid. For example, business managers almost never need to perform tests about a single population mean; yet, traditional business statistics courses use this situation to illustrate the foundations of statistical thinking.

Two things strike me as being fundamental to any successful business statistics course. First, the material must cover statistical topics that students will likely find in the workplace. Second, the mathematics of statistics must not supplant hands-on analysis and interpretation of real data. Without these two components, the business statistics course is destined to remain on the heap of irrelevant "cut" courses.

How should you design a survey to understand your customers' perceptions of a new product? What's the best way to produce short-term forecasts for budgeting purposes? How should you measure the relationship between work performance and merit pay in the face of other confounding factors? How can you estimate an accounting cost curve? How should you measure risk of a stock portfolio? How do you distinguish between normal and extraordinary numbers of calls to the service department and what should you do about them?

In my class, these and other issues are explored using the case method. Cases describe a business scenario that might be addressed by appropriate analysis of data. I ask students to analyze the data in light of the situation, prepare a business report including recommended action, and report back in writing and in person about their results. My classes come alive during the in-class discussions of the case. Because there is much ambiguity in both the method of attack of the data and the interpretation of the results, students have lively exchanges about their findings. We all learn during these case discussions.

Cases are challenging to some students at first. As in any real business problem, students are not told how to solve the problem--no hint is given as to the appropriate statistical method to apply. The written business memo must be constructed so that it fits on one page and contains no statistical jargon. Finally, correct interpretation of the results, with reasonable suggestions for action, are required. Most of my students report that the challenge is rewarding and worthwhile.

The use of cases, with their emphasis on correct interpretation of the statistical results, has been a successful vehicle for developing a business statistics course that meets my criteria of relevance and applicability.


The instructional materials and contents of this website are the property of Professor Marlene A. Smith. They are intended for use by students enrolled in QUAN 2010 (Business Statistics) and BUSN 6530 (Data Analysis for Managers) at the University of Colorado at Denver. Other use of this website, instructional materials, or content is prohibited without the expressed written consent of Marlene Smith.

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