Assistant OM&IS Professor Biagio Palese wins prestigious global award for innovation in teaching

“I am so delighted to learn that Biagio Palese was awarded the Association for Information Systems (AIS) award for Innovation in Teaching. This award recognizes outstanding teaching in classroom innovation and specifically focuses on the uniqueness that increases student interest and drives achievement,” says Chang Liu, Dean’s Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Operations Management and Information Systems (OM&IS) in the NIU College of Business. “Since joining NIU and the Department of OM&IS in 2019, Dr. Palese has been teaching Predictive Data Analytics for undergraduate students and Big Data Analytics for Business for graduate students in our master of information systems program. Students love his classes and learn by using a variety of tools and methodologies to apply data analytics to solve business problems. Dr. Palese is very deserving of such a significant award.”

At the close of 2020, Biago Palese and his co-researchers won the prestigious AIS award for innovation in teaching for their research project entitled, “Designing Scalability in required in-class introductory college courses.” AIS is a global association with membership from over 100 countries. Palese received the award during a ceremony that was held virtually for all member countries in December 2020. NIU Business touched base with Biagio through email to learn more about his innovative approach to teaching.

Q. The AIS award for Innovation in Teaching sounds like a significant recognition.

BP: Yes, this is a prestigious award. I was proud to virtually represent NIU on such an important stage. The international conference on information systems, organized by AIS, is among the best conferences in information systems (IS) and the most prestigious. For this reason, scholars from all over the world attend the conference and are recognized each year with different awards. AIS launched its Innovation in Teaching award in 2012. All previous winners are well known elite scholars, so I feel humbled and honored to receive this award with three of my colleagues from different universities: Gabe Piccoli, Macin Bartosiak and Joaquin Rodriguez.

Q. How did the work unfold and what motivated you to take it on?

BP: My co-authors and I started our research project in 2017. We worked on it mainly during weekends and holidays. This suggests that, in general, some amount of time might be needed to get to where you want to go but in the long run, hard work always pays off. That said, I still have a long way to go but my goal is to, one day, get to the level of some of my mentors and colleagues. They really set the bar high when it comes to teaching and they inspire and challenge me to become even more passionate about it.

Q. The AIS award specifically recognizes innovation in pedagogy and course delivery. Can you share how this played itself out in the classroom?

BP: We were nominated for providing an innovative approach to designing an introductory information systems (IS) course based on real-time scalable feedback and an app running behind it. The objective of this approach is to tackle the challenge of offering a quality introduction to IS course at scale without using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and Virtual Learning Environments (VLE). Our research and previous literature showed that MOOCs and VLEs are very effective in limiting costs but not as effective when it comes to students mastering the materials. So, we invested our time in designing and delivering a required in-class introductory IS college course that can scale to large numbers of students (1,000 business college freshmen per year) under resource constraints, mainly the total cost a university must invest to offer a quality course to its students.

Our approach focuses on three goals:

1. Positively influence learner’s behavior and performance in a blended environment of human-to-human and human-to-computer interactions.

2. Provide high levels of validity and reliability of feedback given to the learners.

3. Provide scalability of the approach.

This approach is composed of two critical elements: a learner’s application based on an automatic grading engine. We custom built this artifact using a design science approach that grades in real time actual Excel files. And open in-class labs that use a flip classroom approach. In this way, we were able to combine online self-learning and traditional in-class learning while also providing scalability and restoring human relationships between peers and between the instructor and the students.

Q. That sounds complex and ambitious. Why is it important in your view to challenge and to push for innovation with your course instruction and delivery?

BP: While this might not be always recognized by students, there’s a lot of prep work behind each course … from materials selections to delivery methods. Even if I try to identify each student’s persona, we often fail to please everyone. So, one thing I always do in my classes is to ask my students to complete, as genuinely as possible, an entry and exit survey. In the end, I think of our students as our customers so if they provide constructive feedback on ways to improve, we should follow it and implement it either by piloting it in that semester or in the next one. Moreover, in my classes I always look for innovative tools or new ways to engage my students in the course and with the materials. This pandemic honestly made it even more difficult for professors to understand how well students are mastering the materials or how engaged they are. In the Fall 2020 semester, I tried Piazza (a free online gathering place where students can engage with professors on a 24/7 basis) for engagement but received mixed reaction about it. So in this Spring semester, I am trying to use only MS Teams to communicate with them and at the moment I am not sure yet if it was the right move.

Since I usually teach software in my classes, I try to always stay up to date with their new releases and functionalities. For example, in my class I also introduce my students to RStudio, an IDE based on the R programming language very popular for statistical analysis and visualizations. I make sure to cover new packages and functions that enable students to achieve the same objective in a more efficient and effective way. Moreover, thanks to the support of my Department Chair, Dr. Chang Liu, I am able to attend trainings that are designed to make individuals better teachers. This past October, I learned a lot by attending the RStudio Instructor Training. I am currently preparing for the RStudio Education trainers’ exams to become a RStudio certified trainer.

Q. We live in a time when technology changes rapidly. Because of this, would you say your research interests are diverse?

BP: I have different research streams, but I am very passionate about understanding how companies can effectively use information systems that are beyond their control. By that I mean IS that is neither designed nor built by the company but that the firm is forced to use to compete. Third party online review systems, such as TripAdvisor, are a perfect example of these type of systems. Nowadays, hotels and restaurants need to be on TripAdvisor to get visibility and to attract new customers as well as retain older ones, but they have no control on how their businesses are assessed or the kind of feedback they will receive. In literature, we know that this feedback has high impact on potential customers’ decisions. Moreover, not only is this feedback broadcasted to other customers from all over the world but it also remains available on the internet for a long period of time — at least two years in many cases. So, the feedback impact and relevance goes beyond traditional word of mouth or e-WOM. In my research, I try to study how companies should address a review and how they should act after receiving one. Currently, with the majority of these systems, the only “legal” action companies can take is providing managerial responses. So, I use text mining and topic modeling to examine how well companies respond and to understand if there is a superior way to respond based on the content of the feedback received.

Q. As all of us live more and more online and in the context of education, what would you say are some top tips for increasing student interest and achievement?

BP: In my humble opinion, I think educators should not shift their focus because of a different type of delivery. They should still concentrate on how to facilitate students’ learning. Unfortunately, there is not a single recipe that works for everyone, as the right formula really depends on the class topics and contents. For example, in my classes I find it’s effective when students learn by doing. So, I like to use a flip classroom approach where students have tasks to complete, and they need to use the software to do so. Of course, I will first explain the materials and show how to use the software but then I give them class time to practice what I just covered. During class, they can ask for my help at any time. Sometimes their questions can be useful to the entire class and that becomes a teaching moment. Other times, they are already close to a solution or understand a concept and so I don’t provide an answer, but I will “force” them to find the solution on their own.

Finally, I spend a good amount of time offering applied projects to them. I try to challenge them to solve real life problems and apply the materials covered in class. At times it can get frustrating for them as they are still learning but failure is part of the learning process. They will not repeat the same mistake again in the future, when they are in a job setting, because they will remember how much that mistake impacted their work before. That said I try to supervise and mentor them as much as possible and provide useful direct feedback on the reports they submit. I truly believe that they will be better prepared for the future if I point out areas where they can still improve rather than just compliment them on what they already do well. I will say this works well in general but of course there are exceptions.

Biagio Palese is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Operations Management and Information Systems. He earned his Ph.D. in business administration with a concentration in information systems at Louisiana State University. He also has an undergraduate degree in economics and a master degree in international business and economics from University of Pavia (Italy) and speaks Italian. Palese’s teaching and research interests embrace introduction to management information systems, data analytics, effective use, customer service, digital data streams and text mining. When he joined NIU in 2019, he taught OMIS 462, OMIS 482 and OMIS 665. Currently, he teaches OMIS 482 Predictive Business Analytics and OMIS 665 Big Data Analytics for Business. Palese’s research has appeared in MISQ Executive, the International Journal of Information Management, the European Journal of Information Systems, Information & Management, and Communications of the Association for Information Systems among others. His research has also appeared in conference proceedings, including the International Conference of Information Systems and Americas Conference of Information Systems. The potential of his research has been recognized with the selection at the ICIS 2018 Doctoral Consortium, and most currently with the AIS 2020 award for innovation in teaching.

— M. De Jean, Director of Marketing, NIU College of Business

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