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Peter Jackson's students get real-world examples delivered in a conversational style. "I give a lot of thought to what is useful and I throw out material now if I realize that I have never used it in practice," says the ORIE professor. "Not all of my lectures are interactive but I do always imagine that there is a conversation taking place."
Capturing and keeping student interest is always a challenge, says Jackson, but an emphasis on practice helps. "My colleagues and I have been using experiential learning techniques (games, simulations, case studies, and role-playing) for several decades now," he says. "These used to be unusual in an engineering college but are they becoming more widely accepted."
Student reaction to an exercise designed by Jackson's colleague Jack Muckstadt shows how effective such techniques can be. "I recently ran a physical simulation in class of a mock supply chain using students as both production workers and production controllers," he says. "After this play of the exercise, I asked one of the students what she thought of the experience. Her eyes were shining as she said she would never forget it. Moments like that keep you going."
For Jackson, teaching has rewards beyond such positive feedback. "It is a creative process to develop a lecture: finding the best way to organize a topic, engage the audience, and present the ideas," he says. "Getting positive feedback from students on how useful they find the coursework is a nice benefit; but that feedback can sometimes be years later."
When he first started teaching, Jackson primarily taught techniques. "After years of industrial project work, I now have a lot more stories to tell," he says. "I spend more time motivating topics and providing students with context."
In turn, the students force Jackson to keep up to date. "The world keeps changing. Students are savvy about all things modern," he says. "I have to work to stay modestly relevant."