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Semi-Objective: UWM Course Reviews, Fall 2010 Edition

The VerdictI love me some angry ranting. And I also love giving props for a job well-done. There was plenty of both this semester, and now that I’ve established myself at UW-Milwaukee I feel better about making my comments public. Hopefully these brief reviews will be of use to anyone thinking about these courses in the future, and on the astronomical chance that a professor reads it, I’ve tried to bash them constructively. I might be biased, so I told you my grades. If you’ve taken the same course or had the same  professor, leave a comment and tell me what you think!

Business Administration 370: Operations Management

Taught by Dr. Xiang Fang

This course was an absolute walk in the park, which is a little disappointing because I happen to think the topic is pretty interesting. Operations Management covers things like process logistics, resource planning, and project management. It’s a nice middle ground between accounting, where records are essential and math is king, and marketing, where you cause alarm when you put numbers on a pie chart. The content is equal parts concept and practice, and I felt like I could actually apply the exercises to a business, unlike, for example, control charts, which need a sampling and measurement history system in place first.

However, as interesting and useful as I found the material, you can skip every lecture and still get an A, which is pretty much what I did. Your entire grade comes from three homework assignments and three multiple-choice exams, none of which are very intimidating. Throughout the 16-week semester, I attended two lectures, spent about 4 hours of time outside of class, and I ended up 1.67 points short of a solid A. Admittedly, with my 18-credit load, this was a blessing, but it doesn’t exactly give prestige to the SCM department. This class was so far off my attention radar that once I completely forgot to finish a homework assignment, due before an exam. After finishing the exam, I asked if I could go “print out my homework.” I walked upstairs to the computer lab, finished the entire thing in 15 minutes, and scored 24.5/25. That’s how easy this class was.

The professor prescribed an expensive textbook had good information, but all the exam material came from the lecture slides. The only time I heard the book acknowledged was when we watched short videos from the publisher. Dr. Fang provided useful sample problems, is a good lecturer, and is clearly knowledgeable on the topic, but I was hoping for more of a challenge from a 300-level course. We skipped almost half the topics in our book, and in the chapters we did cover, the more challenging aspects weren’t tested. I think that moving a little faster and including more material would bring this course up to par.

Grade I Got: A-
My Rating: B+

Business Administration 434: Database Management Systems

Taught by Dr. Kurt Pflughoeft

I had a lot of database experience going into this course, so was expecting an easy A. However, the lack of clear goals, torturous workload, and short-tempered professor made this the most stressful class I have ever taken. One of my biggest complaints with the Management Information Systems program so far is that I’m not sure whether they’re training me to be a manager or a software developer, and this course embodies that conflict. On the one hand, we had extensive homework on SQL coding and spent an eternity talking about searching, sorting, and hashing algorithms, topics solidly rooted in computer science. However, there was almost no specific instruction on using common database tools, our SQL exercises involved high-level managerial questions rather than data processing, and things like ADO.NET (the way your software accesses the database) were only mentioned in passing. There was good information on both sides of the coin, but the lack of a cohesive vision left me a little confused about why I was taking the course.

The group projects in this class were HELL. Not only were they an exorbitant amount of work (I’m talking 60 man-hours each), but the professor assigned them with a week’s notice and we had very little support. (And then changed the deadline the morning of the due date, after we had already finished in a panic.) He never held regular office hours, choosing instead to send an occasional e-mail informing us “I’m in my office today until about 4pm.” For a commuter, that’s not helpful. Even if you did catch him during office hours, he was either agitated by our questions or gave answers so vague we might as well not have asked. Once he even had the balls to say “Well, the other groups figured it out, so I’m not going to help you.” Well then what the hell are you being paid for? We’re forced to use Oracle, the most un-friendly and divergent dialect of SQL, and we’re expected to Google everything? That’s not encouraging discovery; that’s sheer teaching laziness. It got so bad that I e-mailed the class, telling them about helpful tools and techniques. The professor scolded me for not seeking his approval, but you know what, if you don’t want me to e-mail the class, learn how to use blind carbon-copy. I got a bunch of thanks in reply. I don’t think the phrase “Thanks for your help” is going to appear on any teaching evaluations.

Grade I Got: A
My Rating: C

Business Administration 436: Systems Analysis and Design

Taught by Dr. Atish Sinha

Good software architecture is not an easy thing to learn, but it’s also a skill that is desperately needed. I’ve seen enough spaghetti code to know that design patterns matter and developers should learn them early. This course tried to accomplished that goal, although it never really stated that directly and I’m afraid a lot of people missed the point. UML diagrams received most of the attention, but unfortunately these alone do not lead to good designers. We mostly made diagrams of general business processes without much regard to how they would actually be implemented in code. This brings up the manager-programmer balance again. While this course was very useful from a management perspective, it doesn’t make you much of a liaison to a team of programmers. You need vocabulary like “domain models,” “active record,” and “factory objects” to do that, and those ideas weren’t explicitly brought up. I have not taken and don’t need to take BUS ADM 432, the programming course, so I can’t say for sure if that’s a gap in the curriculum.

The one bomb of a topic was our brief detour into service-oriented architecture. This was tacked on to the class this semester and left many of us confused about what services are. When you don’t use words like SOAP, REST, or even XML, you’re left with a very esoteric definition! A programming course is a prerequisite for this one, so it’s okay to use a little jargon to make it clear.

The group work was okay. Since we weren’t trying to do anything more complicated than class inheritance, everything was left very open-ended and it was hard to have confidence in your work. Because of this, the assignments seemed a lot harder than they actually were. Fortunately, Dr. Sinha is a lenient grader, knows how to give constructive criticism, and gave us lots of practice before exams. He kept things entertaining but respectable, so I always looked forward to his class.

Grade I Got: A
My Rating: A-

Business Administration 537: Enterprise Resource Planning

Taught by Dr. Dave Haseman

This class was nothing but a giant sales pitch for SAP, and not a very good one. I was initially attracted to the course because SAP specialists often work as independent consultants and it’s very lucrative work. But once I started using the software, it was so unpleasant that I decided no amount of money could make me endorse it. I’ve planned a separate entry explaining why, but for now I’ll just say that I think flying an F-18 is more intuitive. I spent a lot of time clicking on buttons and typing in numbers, but I have no idea what any of it really did. It reminded me a bit too much of a government bureaucracy. Lectures consisted of watching the professor read bullet points that explained generic business processes, and then watching the professor type things into a screen to make this process “happen.” Based on the number of people in class who were playing games on their laptops (I’m talking Borderlands, not FarmVille) I don’t think he was getting through to anyone.

I have no idea how Dr. Haseman earned the title of Wisconsin Distinguished Professor. I have never had a worse learning experience. I had a better time when I failed a calculus course taught by a non-English speaker. A third of our grade was determined by a business simulation game run in SAP, called ERPSim. It went terribly. The game was full of glitches and had terrible documentation. Whenever a team asked a question, he either shrugged it off or sat there smugly refusing to answer, afraid he would “influence the game.” When a third of my grade is on the line, I expect the professor to offer a little more support than “RTFM,” especially when the “TFM” is incomplete. I eventually concluded that he didn’t have any idea how to use the damn thing either, because we had to re-start the game 3 times due to his screw-ups.

I would tell every MIS student to stay away from SAP courses at all costs, but UWM runs a data center that hosts dozens of universities’ SAP training servers, and the sick bastards think this is something to be proud of. (The massive payola license fee they get from it probably has something to do with it.) So now there are very few MIS electives left that aren’t focused on SAP and it’s getting harder to avoid it. I hate to see the Lubar School used like this to promote a single vendor, so I hope the MIS program grows enough (or SAP fails enough) that the demand for SAP training dilutes.

Grade I Got: B+
My Rating: F

Information Studies 110: Introduction to Information Science

Taught by Dr. Thomas Walker

I thought that adding an information science minor would be a nice idea, to give me a little perspective on using computers for something other than bookkeeping. Unfortunately, this class wasn’t a particularly impressive introduction to the field, and I ultimately ended up dropping the minor. For some reason this field attracts many adult students who don’t have a lot of computer literacy, so everything is rolled back to the things I learned in middle school. Add in some rambling discussions that ultimately go nowhere, and you’re left with a waste of a class. The lectures had no agenda, and the professor wasn’t assertive enough to stop tangential questions from holding up the lecture. This resulted in us talking about the difference between primary and secondary sources for well over 3 hours, and spending half a lecture discussing whether people are racist for saying “Mr. Obama” instead of “President Obama.” What bothered me is that some of the students seemed to think this was a good use of our time, and what really bothered me is I was expected to sit though all of this drivel or take a massive hit to my grade. Eventually, I decided it just wasn’t worth it anymore and took the attendance hit in favor of doing something productive. My TA (Wyatt) was just as frustrated with all this as I was, and his increasing apathy made me feel a little better about it.

On the bright side, Dr. Walker is not the normal professor for this course. He was brought on at the last-minute and was completely disorganized and never really invested much in the course. (For example, it took almost 2 months for him to grade our papers, and posted final grades 4 days late.) I don’t know if that’s how he runs his other courses, but I wasn’t particularly anxious to find out. I’m tempted to audit the course with Michael Zimmer teaching it, since his syllabus requires participation beyond showing up.

Grade I Got: A-
My Rating: D

Information Science 210: Information Resources for Research

Taught by Dr. Betsy Schoeller

I needed another humanities credit, and I really didn’t want another English or history class, so I took this one thinking it would be easy and informative. Well, it was informative, but don’t think it’s an easy way out of writing papers! While you don’t have a term paper to write, the amount of other busy work more than offsets it. The professor also didn’t compensate for the fact that difficult assignments were often assigned Monday and due Wednesday, while you had the weekend to do the easier stuff. The unstable workload made this course very chaotic. 210 also suffers from the same issue as IS 110, where the content is rolled back for those without my generation’s computer literacy. This combined with Betsy’s exuberant teaching style made her seem condescending at times.

Nonetheless, I learned a lot about researching in this class, and I’m sure the skills will be very helpful in the future (especially when I pursue a graduate degree). It gave me a new appreciation for the library and the resources unique to it, as well as a more systematic way to authenticate information on the Internet. The first day of class, Betsy said, “After this class, you’ll wish you had taken it when you started college.” She was right.

Grade I Got: A
My Rating: A-

2 Comments

  1. Smois77 wrote:

    : our SQL exercises involved high-level managerial questions rather than data processing

    Try online SQL (DML) exercises: http://www.sql-ex.ru/

    Monday, January 10, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink
  2. Chris wrote:

    I plan on starting this program fall 2010
    completing my general ed @b18854979780da7d5833caa71085ede1:disqus
     uw waukesha now
    have you graduated yet?
    are you working

    Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 2:31 am | Permalink

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