Winner: Outstanding Case Teacher

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Casey Lichtendahl won the Outstanding Case Teacher competition at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2015.
The winning entry

‘Casey challenges students and leads them to new frontiers and new knowledge. His cases inspire students to learn…his unique personality and teaching style bring classes to life. Casey expects a lot of students but in return gives everything he has and they immensely appreciate it.’ – Elena Loutskina, Associate Professor of Business Administration, University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

Our Outstanding Case Teacher 2015 is Casey Lichtendahl, Associate Professor at University of Virginia Darden School of Business, who teaches students how to apply advanced statistical and machine learning techniques to key business problems while immersing them in the world of practical data science.

Says Casey: 'Winning the competition means a great deal to me. It is very gratifying to be recognised for engaging MBA students in a technical discipline such as data science. In my view, there is too little focus in top MBA programmes on developing these advanced technical skills. The future business world needs MBA students who can manage both the people and the processes in the information age. I am proud to offer students the opportunity to develop these crucial capabilities and I hope this award will encourage other faculty who teach similar material to find their voice. We need more data science taught in MBA programmes around the world.'


‘In my course, I expose students to the wonders of R and SQL: two of the principal tools in the world of data science,’ he says. ‘My approach to teaching students to code is unconventional. Rather than use a “lab” approach, I use a “training-wheel” approach.

‘Typically, coding is taught with small examples and tutorials in a controlled laboratory environment. The idea is to develop basic motor skills before experiencing the ambiguity, richness, and rough contours of the real world. I take the opposite approach. I start (and stay) with advanced, real-world applications.’ 

Identifying real-world problems

Casey’s students learn to code by running the starter code he provides with each real-world business case they study. However, the amount of code he provides progressively diminishes, and to complete the analysis for each new case, students need to repurpose increasing amounts of code from previous classes.

‘By the time students are preparing their final projects,’ says Casey, ‘they are able to identify their own real-world problem, collect relevant data, and write their own code. The analogy is to learning to ride a bike. The teacher takes the training wheels off the bike once the learner is comfortable with the controlled bike in the real-world environment.’ 

Traditional case method discussion

In class, Casey uses the traditional case-discussion format, cold-calling students to lay out the business problem, make a recommendation, and provide an overview of their analysis.

‘This discussion-based approach keeps students engaged throughout the course,’ he says, ‘and I base 40% of their grades on class participation.’

The teacher

Meet our winner, Casey Lichtendahl...

Casey Lichtendahl is Associate Professor of Business Administration at
University of Virginia Darden School of Business. He is an expert in probability forecasting and combining forecast – the art of helping management cope with the uncertainty of the future. His areas of expertise include decision analysis, dynamic programming and Bayesian statistics.

He began his professional career in the beverage industry and in the 1990s, co-founded the Tradewinds company.

His research focuses on eliciting, evaluating and combining probability forecasts and on modelling the consumption/investment choices of individuals.


What the judges said...

Innovative and impressive

‘I really liked that Casey was mixing traditional cases with coding, something that is unusual and yet poised to become more important as schools learn to teach students how to use big data. I also liked the input of “real time” cases from former students interacting via Skype.

'Finally, I liked how he brought his research into the classroom and competition among teams of students. The recommendations are unanimous and credible. This is all very innovative and impressive.’

Decision-focused, case-based approach

‘This was the first ranked proposal for me because of the degree of effort, creativity and domain depth required to build a new course with ten new cases mined from real world scenarios.

Data‘While the course is quite technical, Casey has built a decision-focused, case based approach which many would not think is plausible given the emphasis on “skill building” in most technical courses.

'He accomplished both building the skills of data science, while embedding them in the broader milieu of management decision making such as the valuation of Tumblr to Yahoo and the modeling of loan defaults in the massive Fannie Mae cloud dataset.

‘He further involves past students who are now working in the class to discuss situations they experience in the workforce. Overall, I commend this teacher for his creativity, his huge initiative in case writing and his deployment of a case-based education approach in a topic that could otherwise be handled with very typical lecture based/lab based approach.’