Getting to Know: Nik Dalal
This week the Spears School sat down with Nik Dalal, professor of Management Science and Information Systems, who has been with OSU since 1990.
Where did you grow up?
Dalal: I was born in the western part of India. When I was growing up, my father was a manager of an insurance company that was headquartered in India but had branches all over the world. When I was little, he was posted to Uganda and then later to Ghana, Africa, so I spent the early years of my life in Africa. I still have some vague but fond memories of Africa. When I came back to India at around age 8, I primarily grew up in the western cities of India – Baroda and Mumbai.
How did you end up at OSU?
Dalal: My terminal degree is in Management Information Systems or MIS. At some stage after getting my basic degree and having worked in India for a computer consultancy, I was bitten by the `technology bug’ so I decided that I wanted to come and study here. The U.S. is the place to study technology, so I went to Texas Tech and got my Masters and Ph.D. in MIS.
“While still working on my Ph.D., I decided to go for interviews. My advisor told me not to because he felt, `You still have a lot to do in
terms of completing your doctorate.’ I took the chance, convincing him to let me explore and I ended up getting close to three job offers. In 1990, I accepted the job from OSU because I thought it was the best fit for me. The campus, and particularly the faculty were very nice. When we got to Stillwater, my wife was a little skeptical about living in a small town but Stillwater grew on us and we enjoyed it. It has turned out to be a great place to raise a family. I love working for OSU, we have great collegiality and a passion for excellence in our department.
What’s your favorite course to teach and why?
Dalal: I have taught a variety of different courses and I feel that every course has its own flavor. I don’t have one favorite but the courses I enjoy teaching currently include Systems Analysis & Design and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). In every course I teach, I get very involved in the teaching process and attempt to create a great learning experience for students.
If you could pick any other profession, what would it be?
Dalal: I would be a writer. I have a secret dream of doing some creative writing. Maybe some day I will be able to publish something. I have always been interested in the question, ‘what is real?’ One of my favorite movies is “The Matrix” because it raises the questions of what is reality and what is illusion. These are philosophical question, spiritual questions, and exploring them has been one of my strong interests. So I think my writing would be about discovery and sharing discovery.
What are your hobbies?
Dalal: I love to play tennis. I took to playing tennis after moving to Stillwater. Ever since, I’ve regularly played in the league matches of the Stillwater Tennis Association. Last year, I took part in the intramurals at OSU. We try to play two to three times a week come winter, summer or spring. Besides tennis, we (Dalal and colleagues) have now started to play some table tennis and badminton. More recently, I’m finding myself getting really interested playing Words with Friends (WWF), thanks to my colleague Rick Wilson who has organized a college-wide contest.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Dalal: You know, I would like to move around and not be stationed in one location. If I were able to travel often, I would do that. I may have one base but I would travel.
How do you relax at the end of a long day?
Dalal: It’s usually my wife and I, we end up watching a movie or some show on TV. It’s a simple way to relax. If our children are at home we try to watch a movie we can all enjoy.
What kind of books do you like to read?
Dalal: Lately, I haven’t really been reading recreational books but the kind of books that I used to enjoy are mysteries written by Agatha Christie, Arthur Hailey, and others, or funny books by authors like P.G. Wodehouse.
What advice would you like to offer to students?
Dalal: If there is one thing I would wish students would learn as university students, it is to discover whether one can learn for the pure love of learning. Love of learning is a quality, I feel, that can carry you through life. Don’t take a course and treat it as something you have to do just to graduate and to get a job. Look at it from a different perspective. Look for something new to discover in whatever it is you are studying. There is an intrinsic beauty about learning for the sake of learning.
Tell us about your research.
Dalal: My past work has been in the areas of web perception, decision support systems, philosophical issues in information systems, and enterprise systems implementation. I’ll talk about two current topics I am working on, among others. One is a new exploration that goes to the question of wisdom. In MIS, we talk about the knowledge pyramid that has data at the bottom, then information and knowledge and wisdom at the top. We talk about transforming data into information, and transforming information into knowledge. My hope is that the next frontier in information systems research is wisdom computing. Which relates to the question, how can we use technology to harness knowledge into something deeper and stronger? Because we can see from today’s global problems and crises that knowledge is necessary but is not sufficient. We had the smartest people running Wall Street and look what happened! We see such crises at all levels all over the world and surely there is a role here for wisdom. Maybe technology has some role to play in the transformation of knowledge to wisdom, and if information systems as a discipline is to be more relevant to societal needs, we have to investigate this difficult challenge.
Another interesting research topic we are working on relates to gaming and game design. I was inspired when I watched my son, who as a young boy downloaded some game creation software and seemed to be fascinated by the whole experience of making games. He was learning about art, music, and all the elements, including writing because you have to tell stories to create games. I thought, ‘Hey this is a great way to learn!’ So we started looking to discover the benefits that come from the process of rapidly creating your own games. To do this, you need software that is easy to learn and use. Students, instead of just playing digital games, can actually build simple games and in the process build critical and creative thinking skills while organically learning object-oriented programming concepts. At the end, they also have a greater feeling of accomplishment. My colleagues in computer science, educational technology and computer engineering and I have sent a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation to explore the promise of this approach in cyber-learning. This is an interdisciplinary exploration.