Analytics skills are a must-have for companies that are keen to use data to drive smarter strategic decisions. How could Mohawk College help its students gain the knowhow they need for professional success?
Mohawk College introduced IBM Watson Analytics into its business courses, providing a practical, hands-on teaching program that gives students in-depth experience of cutting-edge analysis tools and techniques.
Ease-of-usegives students more time to focus on analysis, instead of learning complex tools
Empowersstudents with practical skills that they can use during internships and in the workplace
Boostsemployment prospects for students, helping them stand out in a competitive job market
Business challenge story
Preparing students for employment
Take a look at a job board today and it’s clear that analytics and critical thinking skills are fast becoming prized assets amongst employers. At the McKeil School of Business at Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology in Ontario, Canada, the faculty aims to provide hundreds of students each year with the knowledge and experience they need to forge a successful career.
Lisa Cuncic-Pegg, Program Co-Ordinator for the Business Analysis Postgraduate Certification at Mohawk College, explains: “The ability to understand and use analytics tools is now a highly sought-after skill here in Canada. Employers are recognizing that getting to grips with their data assets will enable higher-quality consumer services and more efficient operations—and they want graduates who can help them achieve this.
“Over the course of their careers, our students could end up specializing in many different business fields, from supply chain management to human resources. But whatever their chosen specialty, the ability to use data to make smarter strategic decisions will be hugely important.”
Each semester, around 150 students sign up for the business analysis programs at Mohawk College. Although some students come to the course with an existing knowledge of statistical modeling platforms, many are taking their first steps into the field of business analytics.
In the past, the course content focused on textbook-based teaching to introduce students to the theoretical aspects of analytics. However, to prepare its students for the modern workplace, Mohawk College realized that it was time for a new approach.
Lisa Cuncic-Pegg elaborates: “My background is in applied learning and I am always keen to see how we can use new technologies to help students augment their skills. We’ve been evolving our courses to focus on teaching practical methods for students to interact with business data—and introducing them to the right tools is an important part of that process.”
Providing access to powerful, user-friendly analytics tools
After seeing a demo of IBM Watson Analytics at a conference in Toronto, Mohawk College immediately saw its potential to become a key tool for its business analysis programs. Today, the college devotes half of one 14-week semester to getting its business students to learn and use the IBM solution.
Lisa Cuncic-Pegg elaborates on the selection: “We already had a strong partnership with IBM in other areas at Mohawk College, so we knew they were a vendor we could work with. When we first explored IBM Watson Analytics, we recognized just the right combination of functionality and usability—it was easy to see how we could incorporate the solution into our teaching.”
With IBM Watson Analytics, students can upload datasets and choose from suggested starting points to discover patterns and trends in the data, or enter their own natural language queries. The students can then create customized visualizations to illustrate the insights they uncover, as well as generating dashboards and infographics to help them present their findings to others.
Lisa Cuncic-Pegg continues: “As a program leader, getting started with IBM Watson Analytics was very easy. With the documentation IBM provided, I was able to train myself on the various features within a couple of hours. The fact that it is a cloud-based tool is also an advantage: we don’t have to worry about installing anything on each student’s laptop, all they need is a web browser.”
After just a two-hour session to introduce the functions of the IBM solution, students at Mohawk are typically comfortable enough with the interface to start running their own queries and analyses. Even among students who have no previous experience of data analysis, adoption of IBM Watson Analytics has been swift.
“Watson Analytics is so intuitive that our students are digging into data and creating their own visualizations in no time. Often, students who began the course with little knowledge of analytics suddenly develop a passion for the subject and want to explore it further.”
Andrea Paine, a student at Mohawk College, adds: “I have looked at several other data modeling tools since first using Watson Analytics, and none of them compare for ease of use. Exploring and manipulating data in Watson Analytics is straightforward, and being able to ask questions in natural language is very useful too.”
Gaining valuable analytics skills
With IBM Watson Analytics, Mohawk College has transformed the way it teaches its business analysis programs, and is equipping students with the skills they need to succeed in the modern workplace.
Since it now takes only a short time to learn how to use the solution, instructors can now devote more hours to helping students develop their analytics and critical thinking skills—such as how to explore, understand and refine datasets, how to interpret the results of their analyses, and how to visualize and present their findings to different audiences.
Lisa Cuncic-Pegg continues: “From a teaching and learning perspective, IBM Watson Analytics enables us to focus more time on the practical side of analytics. With other statistics tools or spreadsheets, teaching just basic analysis methods would have taken several weeks—whereas with Watson Analytics, students can start working productively in just a few hours.”
At the start of the course, Mohawk College asks students to explore a sample dataset provided by IBM. However, students soon move on to real-world datasets, and when they begin their field placements, they often take Watson Analytics with them. In many cases, students have been able to uncover valuable insights during these placements—raising the profile of the college and its students among local employers.
Andrea Paine—who is now on placement within the Financial Assistance office at Mohawk College—adds: “Watson Analytics has been very useful for uncovering trends. For example, analyzing historical data for peaks in demand is helping us understand when students are using services such as counseling, registrations and admissions. The aim is to ensure we always have the right number of staff available to help students in need.”
In another project, a group of Mohawk College students worked for a medical practice that aims to create a smartphone app to help arthritis sufferers manage their symptoms. The students surveyed a group of patients on the advice they would find most useful, before consolidating the data and generating a series of visualizations and reports. The results included several useful recommendations that the doctors had not previously considered.
Steven Wegman, a former student who is now working as a Junior Business Analyst in the IT Department at Mohawk College, gives another example: “Making sure we get the most out of our IT budget is important for the college. We’re using Watson Analytics to analyze all our IT contracts and assess the best time to open a dialog with vendors. This should put us in a strong negotiating position and help us optimize our resources.”
By introducing students to a powerful analytics tool, Mohawk College is enhancing their appeal to prospective employers. Students can not only gain a deep working knowledge of Watson Analytics during the business course, they can also achieve certifications to bolster their resumes.
"Here in Canada, the competition for graduate-level jobs is fierce," adds Lisa Cuncic-Pegg. "Thanks to IBM Watson Analytics, our students gain just the skills and experience that companies are looking for, helping them differentiate themselves from other applicants and increase their chance of getting their ideal job."
She concludes: “At Mohawk College our central goal is to give our students the right skills to make a positive difference to society. Our work with IBM is helping us to deliver a first-class educational experience, helping our business graduates get ready to make their mark on the world.”
About Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology
Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technologies, based in Hamilton, Ontario, provides higher education to 31,700 full-time, part-time, apprenticeship and international students. Since its foundation in 1966, over 120,000 students have graduated from Mohawk. The college is among the leading colleges in Canada for applied research and is ranked first among all Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area colleges in student satisfaction for seven consecutive years, and first in graduate satisfaction for the past five years (KPI 2017-18).
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