Discrete-event Simulation for MATH 208W Introduction to Operations Research

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Tamon Stephen, Department of Mathematics

Project team: Timothy Yusun, research assistant

Timeframe: January 2017 to January 2018

Funding: $6,000

Course addressed: MATH 208W – Introduction to Operations Research

Final report: View Tamon Stephen's short final report (PDF) | long final report (PDF)

Description: MATH 208W Introduction to Operations Research is an introductory course for students pursuing or open to considering a mathematics major. The main course objective is to serve as a gentle introduction to mathematical modeling in operations research, with an emphasis on applications and computation for analysis. Ideally, after taking this course, students would be encouraged to take more advanced courses that discuss these topics in more detail.

We would like to find out how to get students with a minimal mathematical background to sample the experimental side of mathematics. One way we would like to do this is by introducing them to the art of discrete-event simulation. Discrete-event simulation is somewhat novel in a mathematics curriculum, and it presents challenges for delivery and evaluation in an undergraduate course. In particular, interesting simulations are large-scale projects that harness substantial computing power. As well, discrete-event simulation is not effectively taught through traditional pedagogical methods (lectures and pen-and-paper tests), but instead requires hands-on work. Thus it is difficult to present in a first- or second-year undergraduate course where (1) students typically do not have the necessary background in mathematics and/or computation; and (2) time/resources are limited.

Recent offerings of MATH 208W have presented the course in two parts: mathematical modeling using spreadsheets in the first half, and then an assortment of other topics in the second half. The first part follows the textbook, but the second part lacks a standard reference, and is assembled from various sources and presented by the instructor on the whiteboard. One reason that we have not found a suitable reference is that the course is designed for students who have only taken one or two calculus courses, and the material has to be presented in a manner suitable to their background.

The main goal of this project is to focus the second half of the course on discrete-event simulation and to prepare relevant materials, in particular a set of lecture notes that can be compiled as a pdf textbook, as well as assignments, and possibly a project/case study.

Knowledge sharing: Mathematics, and particularly the Operations Research group at Surrey, is a small entity. We expect to be personally in touch with future instructors of the course. One of our goals is transferrable course materials.

Yusun, T. (2017, July). Teaching simulation in an introductory operations research course. Presentation at the Mathematical Association of America: (MAA) MathFest, Chicago, IL.

Keywords: OER, open educational resources, engaging students, operations research, hands-on learning, discrete-event simulation, experimental mathematics, experiential learning, materials development, course notes, simulation, operations research, mathematics, data science, active learning