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Credit: Isabel Liang

This semester, a new Wharton management class has brought artificial intelligence to the forefront of management education.

The class, MGMT 198: Managing Disruptive Change: Artificial Intelligence for Business, Finance, and Sustainability, gives students the opportunity to learn from and interact with top academics and practitioners in the field of AI. 

According to the syllabus, the class features guest lectures from industry leaders including Walmart eCommerce CEO Marc Lore and head of AI research at JP Morgan Chase Manuela Veloso, as well as from a wide range of Penn professors. The class's interaction with professionals and its student-run nature presents a unique opportunity to students, Wharton Management professor Mauro Guillén said. 

This is the second course in the Wharton Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Board’s “Managing Disruptive Change” series. The series seeks to annually provide half-credit classes that “bring together academic and industry professionals to teach a current, thought-provoking topic in business.” The inaugural course, offered in Fall 2019, focused on cryptocurrencies.

“Every year it is a different class because we change the topic," Guillén, the faculty director for MGMT 198, said. "The emergence of this was that the Wharton Advisory Board thought that there would be room in the curriculum for something really innovative that involved practitioners, not just faculty, and we decided to do it on technology because it is a rapidly changing field, so sometimes practitioners know better than faculty what is going on right now.” 

During every meeting period, the class examines a new subtopic of AI. Students spend the first 1.5 hours learning from a Penn professor, and the second 1.5 hours hearing from AI practitioners. Subtopics investigated this semester include “AI and Sustainability” and “AI in Healthcare.”

Wharton sophomore and WAB member Rik Bag helped to select AI as the course’s main topic. After the conclusion of the previous cryptocurrency-focused MGMT 198 class, an interest survey about the next course was administered, Bag said. AI led the results, which combined with Wharton's recent prioritization of AI — like with the recently launched Wharton Artificial Intelligence for Business initiative — led to its selection. 

Guillén said several adjustments needed to be made to the course to fit the virtual fall semester. In last year’s class, each student was able to have dinner in a group of about eight with a practitioner, which was not possible this semester due to COVID-19. Students also have the option of taking the class asynchronously. Guillén said about 50 students attended the first class meeting synchronously.

Wharton senior Teva Vogelstein said she was pleased with the course’s ability for interaction. 

“Honestly it was super engaging, the first class. I didn’t know what it would be like, but you can raise your hand to speak or you could just type your comments into the chat box, and I’ve never seen such an active chat. The entire class, people were constantly responding to points that were being made by the professor and other students,” Vogelstein said. 

The class is open to Penn students from all undergraduate schools. Guillén said that two-thirds of those taking it are not in Wharton, and Bag said that no prior AI knowledge is required. Students are heavily involved in running the course, Guillén said. A final group paper determines 40% of a student's grade, and scores are largely determined by a classmate’s peer review. 

Guillén said the “Managing Disruptive Change” course series is a great opportunity for students to take a deep dive into relevant topics and learn from the experts in the field and hopes to see this course model expand to other schools  

“I think it would be really important for other departments and other universities to also offer these kinds of classes. I think undergrads want to take the initiative and do something like this,” Guillén said.

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