Inspiration in the Classroom

Professor Paul Hoban looks over his business analytics class
Students in a business analytics class taught by Paul Hoban, assistant professor of marketing and Oros Chair for Inspired Learning, use class time to collaborate and work on data sets.

Inspiration isn’t a light bulb. It isn’t a bolt of lightning and it isn’t magic. What it takes is something more valuable but less visible—time.

At the Wisconsin School of Business, faculty have been able to put inspiration into action with a new initiative, the Inspired Learning Chairs and Inspired Learning Professorship. The competitively awarded grants provide faculty members one year of funding to devote time to educational innovations. In turn, WSB is able to advance one of its top priorities: inspiring student learning through innovative curriculum.

“To attract and retain top faculty, you have to offer a workplace where they are encouraged to have ideas but also get time to put them into practice,” says Suzanne Dove, assistant dean for academic innovations. “We’ve got some big goals we’d like to meet in the teaching and learning space and innovation is a big part of that.”

The initiative was established as part of the Morgridge Match initiative and with gifts from Michael E. Lehman (BBA ’74), John (BBA ’71) and Anne Oros, and Cindy (BBA ’75) and Jay (Ph.D ’78) Ihlenfeld.

Students learn from each other

Paul Hoban, assistant professor of marketing, is using the Oros Chair for Inspired Learning to continue to enhance a redesigned business analytics course. He has gradually “flipped” the class—putting course materials, including lectures, online for students to work on or watch on video while using class time to collaborate on real-world data sets that they might have previously struggled with on their own away from class.

“Flipping a classroom isn’t just done to create interaction, it’s also so that the students will learn from each other,” Hoban says. “They come to class better prepared and that helps their classmates and improves the experience of all the students.”

Hoban has already seen the results. He quit grading on a curve because so many of the students had higher test scores than in the past.

(Students) come to class better prepared and that helps their classmates.

Paul Hoban,
Assistant Professor of Marketing and Oros Chair for Inspired Learning


Analytics is a growing field, and Hoban’s goal is to teach students to turn data into insights. It’s also a growing area of study at WSB, with more than 500 students taking Hoban’s class. With resources from the Inspired Learning Chair, Hoban created an automated grading system through which students could get instant feedback.

“It says, ‘Here’s what’s wrong, here’s where your analysis went wrong,’” Hoban says, adding that the technology-based solution provides feedback that wouldn’t otherwise be possible with more than 500 students.

Two other faculty members were awarded grants for the 2017-18 academic year. Evan Polman, assistant professor of marketing, is reworking a capstone marketing strategy class that builds on his research on creativity and curiosity. Martin Ganco, associate professor of management and human resources, is restructuring the Wisconsin Full-Time MBA Program’s signature applied learning project, the integrated company analysis.


INSPIRED LEARNING CHAIRS, 2017-18


Evan Polman

Evan Polman, assistant professor of marketing, is the Ihlenfeld Professor for Inspired Learning in Business.

Martin Ganco

Martin Ganco, associate professor of management and human resources, is the Lehman Distinguished Chair for Inspired Learning in Business.

Building on knowledge

Hoban’s students build on knowledge gained in another class that has reaped the benefits of an Inspired Learning Chair. Anita Mukherjee, assistant professor of risk and insurance, and Hessam Bavafa, assistant professor of operations and information management, held a chair last year and restructured the introductory business analytics course they team-teach.

Mukherjee and Bavafa developed the course in 2014, and saw class sizes boom from 30 to over 100 as the BBA program grew. In Fall 2017, more than 700 students took the class. That provided challenges and opportunities in two areas: enabling students to apply the statistical tools they were learning to authentic business problems and creating an automated grading tool that would provide rapid and meaningful feedback. These changes allowed students to concentrate on improving their analytical skills and freed faculty time to work with students’ “softer skills” relating to the interpretation and presentation of data analysis.

“Students now spend time getting into analysis right away and getting lots of feedback on their work,” Mukherjee says. “We have some portion of the case due roughly each week, which helps students get early feedback on the accuracy of their work so that they can improve their analysis.”

Faculty who are awarded the grant receive release time from teaching duties, and sometimes benefit from additional expertise or resources supported by the Innovation Fund.

There is a trickle-down effect to the Inspired Learning initiative that can impact other classes. Students leave Mukherjee’s and Bavafa’s class better prepared than in the past, which means Hoban can build on that knowledge and better prepare those students for the future analytics classes they take as well as their internships and jobs.

The intent, Dove says, is to create innovations that will have a broad impact throughout WSB.

“Our hope is the benefits of the Inspired Learning Chair and Professorship will endure long after the person no longer holds it,” she says.


INSPIRED LEARNING CHAIRS, 2016-17


Hessam Bavafa
Anita Mukherjee

Hessam Bavafa, assistant professor of operations and information management, and Anita Mukherjee, assistant professor of risk and insurance, shared the Lehman Distinguished Chair for Inspired Learning in Business. They created a grading tool that provided more meaningful feedback to business analytics students they team-taught.

Edward Frees

Edward Frees (M.S. ’76), professor of risk and insurance and Hickman/ Larson Chair of Actuarial Science, was the Oros Chair for Inspired Learning in Business and worked to create a free, online actuarial textbook.

Maria Triana

Maria Triana, associate professor of management and human resources, was the Ihlenfeld Professor for Inspired Learning in Business and worked on creating a new course, Diversity in Organizations.

Students Thanking Badgers

Students Thanking Badgers

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A Student Thank You Note

Mike (WSB student)

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Maddy (WSB student)

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Student Thanking a Badgers

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