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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Giving students the 'why'

Over on Marginal Revolution, Alex Tabarrok has a post about the discomfort humans sometimes feel in following computer algorithms because they don't understand the underlying logic. He starts with the following anecdote:
Once the boss told me to deliver package A then C then B when A and B were closer together and delivering ACB would lengthen the trip. I delivered ABC and when the boss found out he wasn’t happy because C needed their package a lot sooner than B and distance wasn’t the only variable to be optimized... It isn’t easy suppressing my judgment in favor of someone else’s judgment even if the other person has better judgment (ask my wife) but once it was explained to me I at least understood why my boss’s judgment made sense.

My first thought upon reading that was that my husband would definitely say I am the same way - whenever he suggests doing something a certain way that is different from how I would have done it, he says I make my "87 percent face" - that is, he can tell I'm only 87 percent convinced that his way is possibly better (the 87 is just random). But when he takes the time to explain exactly why his way makes sense (usually because there is some information missing that I don't know about and he does), I'm almost always fine with it, which makes him frustrated that I can't just trust his judgment in the first place. And I don't know what to tell him - all I know is that if I can't make logical sense of it, I don't like it.

And then, as I was sharing Alex's post with my husband so he could laugh at me, I had an epiphany. My students are the same way! When I ask them to do something that is different than what they are used to (which I tend to do often), it can make them uncomfortable and frustrated. But when I explain why I am asking them to do it, what the purpose is and how it will benefit them, they still may not like it but they don't complain nearly as much. This is one reason I spend a lot of time explaining to students in my data analysis class why we are using the Team-Based Learning approach.

I think this may be part of why my current writing class seems to be going more poorly than in the past. I know I haven't taught in a while but I've been a little bewildered at how much more students in this class seem to be complaining than I remember past classes doing. For example, I'm currently in the middle of grading their second writing assignment and comments from several students indicate that they were very frustrated when working on it. It's a short data report in which the students discuss some aspect of the most recent BLS Employment Situation report (details here if anyone is curious). The prompt tells them that they are an analyst at a consulting firm, asked to write a short article for a monthly newsletter that goes out to clients, who are businesspeople.They have to get some data and make a graphic to give the recent employment numbers some historical context but other than that, I leave it up to them to decide what they specifically want to focus on. We do discuss the BLS report in class, and prior to that class meeting, I ask them to submit a one-sentence headline that identifies whatever they found most interesting or important in the report. The idea is that they should then use that as the starting point for their essay. Of course, many students don't take that assignment seriously so they still struggle to find an appropriate focus.

This is the first 'real' economic writing assignment for this class (since their first assignment is more of an open-ended / opinion essay about what they consider good writing). The students read a chapter from the Wyrick text (The Economist's Handbook) about writing a short descriptive report and we go over an example in class (albeit on a completely different topic). But there seem to be more students than usual who are frustrated that, as one student put it, "they are writing blind" because I haven't given them more guidance about what to write.

What's frustrating for me is that what these students consider lack of guidance, I consider a feature of the assignment, not an oversight - I want them to decide for themselves what is interesting or important about the data and think about what is or isn't appropriate for this audience and context. But now I think part of the problem may be that I wasn't clear enough that learning to make those kinds of decisions for themselves is one of the objectives.

One reason it didn't occur to me to talk about that much is that basically, I got spoiled. It dawned on me that the last several times I've taught the writing class, at least half the students were survivors of my data class, which meant that a) they were already familiar with my teaching style and b) they had already learned to be relatively comfortable with ambiguity (which is something I harp on a lot in the data class). So I didn't need to spend much time talking to them about that aspect of the assignments in the writing class; they already expected that from me. But this time around, I don't know any of the students, and they don't know me, so I think I'm going to need to have a discussion with them about why my assignments are structured the way that they are.

How transparent are you about the reasons behind your teaching style?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I'm back!

In the classroom, that is - since I was on sabbatical last year and then working on CTL stuff in the fall, it's been over a year and a half since I taught my last class. I'm teaching my writing class this spring and I definitely feel rusty. I'm looking at my notes from the last time (two years ago) and trying to make sense of my scribbles, and everything seems to be taking me twice as long as I dust off the cobwebs in that part of my brain. But it feels good to be working directly with students again...

One thing I have NOT missed is having to deal with crashers at the beginning of the semester. The first couple weeks of the spring semester, in particular, has to be my least favorite time of year, both as an instructor and as an undergraduate advisor. My general policy is that I will take almost everyone who wants to crash* AND who shows up for the first class meeting, but that is it. I simply don't give out add codes to anyone who wasn't there on the first day, partly because of the way I structure my classes - with the Team-Based Learning class, I assign teams in the second class, based on a survey students fill out in the first class, and in the writing class, the students already have a short paper due at the beginning of the second class meeting. So if students miss the first day, they have already missed too much. In the fall semester, crashers will beg and whine and try to tell me why they HAVE to have my class but in the spring semester, their begging often includes, "But I need this class in order to graduate in May!" This was particularly problematic when I was teaching the Data Analysis course, which is required for all majors (so if they don't take that specific course, they really can't graduate); less so with the writing class (they usually just need A class, not necessarily MY class) but that doesn't stop the whining.

As an undergrad advisor, it's sometimes even worse because students come see me when they can't get into OTHER people's classes. Of course, I have no power to force any of my colleagues to take any students, but I get to deal with the resulting, "What am I supposed to do now? NO ONE will let me into their class!" The reality is that often, a student is in this position entirely through some fault of their own (like the ones who miss their plenty-early-enough registration time because they were on vacation somewhere, or who waited until their last semester to take all of the required courses that we advisors tell everyone to take before everything else). But of course, that doesn't stop the whining.

I go back and forth between being a hard-ass, telling myself that these kids need to deal with the consequences of their actions (or lack of actions), and feeling bad for them and guilty that I won't/can't do more to help them. I just don't know what the 'right' response is. I always feel a big sense of relief once the add/drop deadline passes and I know I won't have to deal with it anymore. 

How do you deal with crashers?

* For those who are fortunate enough to not know what this means, 'crashers' refers to students who were not able to enroll in a class during regular registration but still want to get into the class. Once the regular registration period is over, the only way into a class is with an add code you get directly from the instructor. In my department, every instructor is allowed to decide for themselves whether to allow any crashers and if they do, how to allocate add codes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Econ Ed Sessions at the ASSAs

I won't be in Boston but for those who will be, here's the round-up of sessions related to teaching... (if I missed any, please let me know!)

Jan 03, 2015 8:00 am, Sheraton Boston, The Fens 
American Economic Association
Curriculum and Assessment of Economic Principles (A2)
PresidingCARLOS ASARTA (University of Delaware)
Modeling and Measuring of Economics Knowledge among Freshman Students in German Higher Education
MANUEL FOERSTER (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)
OLGA ZLATKIN-TROITSCHANSKAIA (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)
ROLAND HAPP (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)
SEBASTIAN BRUECKNER (Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz)
Grades, Coursework, and Student Characteristics in High School Economics
WILLIAM WALSTAD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
KEN REBECK (St Cloud State University)
Motivating College-Level Immersion: The AP Economics Programs and Exams
DAVID A. ANDERSON (Centre College)
Economics Assessment in the IB Diploma Programme
SUSAN JAMES (International Baccalaureate)
GEORG SCHAUR (University of Tennessee)
JOHN SWINTON (Georgia College and State University)
PAUL W. GRIMES (Pittsburg State University)
WILLIAM BOSSHARDT (Florida Atlantic University)

Jan 03, 2015 8:00 am, Sheraton Boston, Public Garden 
American Economic Association

Experimental Evidence of the Impact of Online Education on Student Outcomes (I2, A2)

PresidingREBECCA MAYNARD (University of Pennsylvania)
Virtually Large: The Effects of Class Size in Online College Courses
ERIC BETTINGER (Stanford University)
CHRISTOPHER DOSS (Stanford University)
SUSANNA LOEB (Stanford University)
ERIC TAYLOR (Stanford University)
Does Classroom Time Matter? A Randomized Field Experiment of Hybrid and Traditional Lecture Formats in Economics
TED JOYCE (Baruch College)
SEAN CROCKETT (Baruch College)
DAVID JAEGER (City University of New York)
ONUR ALTINAG (City University of New York)
Online, Blended and Classroom Teaching of Economics Principles: A Randomized Experiment
WILLIAM ALPERT (University of Connecticut)
KENNETH COUCH (University of Connecticut)
OSKAR HARMON (University of Connecticut)
DAVID DEMING (Harvard University)

Jan 03, 2015 10:15 am, Sheraton Boston, Constitution Ballroom B 
American Economic Association

The Economics Major and Economics Education Research - The Past 20 Years, Panel Discussion (A2) (Panel Discussion)

Panel ModeratorWENDY STOCK (Montana State University)
SAM ALLGOOD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
JOHN SIEGFRIED (Vanderbilt University)
WILLIAM WALSTAD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Jan 03, 2015 12:30 pm, Sheraton Boston, Beacon A 
National Association of Economic Educators

Economic Education Research and the Principles Classroom (A2)

PresidingHELEN ROBERTS (University of Illinois-Chicago)
Economic Education Research in The American Economist: A 50 Year Anniversary
CARLOS ASARTA (University of Delaware)
PAUL W. GRIMES (Pittsburg State University)
AUSTIN JENNINGS (University of Delaware)
Loss Aversion, Distributional Effects, and Asymmetric Gender Responses in Economics Education
MARIA APOSTOLOVA-MIHAYLOVA (University of Mary Washington)
WILLIAM COOPER (University of Kentucky)
GAIL HOYT (University of Kentucky)
EMILY MARSHALL (University of Kentucky)
[Download Preview]
Preconceptions of Principles Students
WILLIAM GOFFE (Pennsylvania State University)
HELEN ROBERTS (University of Illinois-Chicago)
REBECCA CHAMBERS (University of Delaware)
CARLOS ASARTA (University of Delaware)

Jan 03, 2015 12:30 pm, Sheraton Boston, Beacon B 
Omicron Delta Epsilon

Omicron Delta Epsilon Faculty Advisor Session (A1)

PresidingALAN GRANT (Baker University)
Systematic Misunderstanding of Core Ideas in Principles of Economics Courses: A Case Study of Comparative Advantage, Specialization, and Trade
JAMES K. SELF (Indiana University)
WILLIAM E. BECKER (Indiana University)
A Classroom Property Title Experiment
LAUREN HELLER (Berry College)
[Download Preview]
Directed Crib Sheet Development as a Test Preparation and Review Tool
KARA SMITH (Belmont University)
COLIN CANNONIER (Belmont University)
Student Effort and Learning Outcomes in Introductory Economics Courses
NARA MIJID (Central Connecticut State University)
LAUREN HELLER (Berry College)
JAMES K. SELF (Indiana University)
NARA MIJID (Central Connecticut State University)
KARA SMITH (Belmont University)

Jan 03, 2015 2:30 pm, Sheraton Boston, Back Bay Ballroom B 
American Economic Association

The Undergraduate Origins of PhD Economists: Where Do They Come From and Advice to Programs (A2) (Panel Discussion)

Panel ModeratorGAIL HOYT (University of Kentucky)
JOHN SIEGFRIED (Vanderbilt University)
WENDY STOCK (Montana State University)
PHILIP N. JEFFERSON (Swarthmore College)
ELLEN MAGENHEIM (Swarthmore College)
JEFFREY MIRON (Harvard University)
JENNY BOURNE (Carleton College)
NATHAN GRAWE (Carleton College)
MARTHA L. OLNEY (University of California-Berkeley)

Jan 04, 2015 8:00 am, Hynes Convention Center, Room 209 
American Economic Association

The Effects of Attendance, Visualization, Study Time and Tutorials on Learning in Economic Education (A2)

PresidingGEORG SCHAUR (University of Tennessee)
Effect of Peer Attendance on College Students' Learning Outcomes in a Microeconomics Course
JENNJOU CHEN (National Chengchi University)
TSUI-FANG LIN (National Taipei University)
Using Interactive Compound Interest Visualizations to Improve Financial Literacy
EDWARD HUBBARD (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
PERCIVAL MATTHEWS (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
ANYA SAVIKHIN SAMEK (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Is There an Inverse Relationship Between Study Time and Final Exam Scores? Evidence from Principles of Economics
IRENE FOSTER (George Washington University)
QIAN GUO (George Washington University)
CHENG XU (George Washington University)
The Effectiveness of Tutorials in Large Classes: Do They Matter? Is There a Difference between Traditional and Collaborative Learning Tutorials?
KAREN MENARD (Ontario Health Study)
ABIGAIL PAYNE (McMaster University)
VICTORIA LIZA PROWSE (Cornell University)
ANNE BORING (Sciences Po)
ANYA SAVIKHIN SAMEK (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
ANDREW PERUMAL (University of Massachusetts-Boston)

Jan 04, 2015 10:15 am, Hynes Convention Center, Room 208 
American Economic Association

Behavioral Economics in the Classroom (A2)

PresidingBRIGITTE C. MADRIAN (Harvard University)
Principles of (Behavioral) Economics
DAVID LAIBSON (Harvard University)
JOHN LIST (University of Chicago)
Teaching a Behavioral Economics Elective: Highlighting the Evolution of Research in Economics
TED O’DONOGHUE (Cornell University)
Training the Nudgers: Leveraging Behavioral Economics to Expand the Policy Toolkit
SAURABH BHARGAVA (Carnegie Mellon University)
GEORGE LOEWENSTEIN (Carnegie Mellon University)

Jan 04, 2015 10:15 am, Boston Marriott Copley, Wellesley 
Society of Government Economists

Exploring the Potential for Improvements in Economics Education (A2)

PresidingDEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY (University of Illinois-Chicago and AIRLEAP)
Training the Ethical Economist
GEORGE DEMARTINO (University of Denver)
When Is Flipping Effective in Teaching Economics? Two Experiments in 'Active' Learning
RICHARD ANDERSON (Lindenwood University)
AREERAT KICHKHA (Lindenwood University)
The Economic Arguments for Government-Sponsored, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in Economics
The Case for Including Economic Thought in the Education of Business Students
BRIAN W. SLOBODA (University of Phoenix)
ANITA CASSARD (University of Phoenix)
Valuing ‘Free’ Entertainment in GDP
RACHEL SOLOVEICHIK (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis)
SETH GIERTZ (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
REZA KHEIRANDISH (Clayton State University)
MARK COSTA (Sustain Software)
SHABNAM MOUSAVI (Johns Hopkins University)
AMELIE F. CONSTANT (Institute for the Study of Labor and George Washington University)

Jan 04, 2015 2:30 pm, Sheraton Boston, Republic Ballroom Foyer 
American Economic Association

AEA Committee on Economic Education Poster Session (A2) (Poster Session)

PresidingSTEVE COBB (Pennsylvania State University)
Active Application of the Game Theory into a Classroom Game with Ethical Concerns and Understanding of Versatile Business Implications
SYLWIA E. STARNAWSKA (State University New York-Empire State College)
Poster Projects in Economics Classroom: Stimulating Active Learning and Creativity
INESSA LOVE (University of Hawaii-Manoa)
Incorporating Sustainability into Principles of Macroeconomics: A Case Study
MADHAVI VENKATESAN (Bridgewater State University)
The Use of a Collective Bargaining Simulation and Its Impact on Student Perceptions and Critical Thinking Skills
ROD D. RAEHSLER (Clarion University)
Flipped & Open
RICHARD ANDERSON (Lindenwood University)
AREERAT KICHKHA (Lindenwood University)
Using Surveys to Advance Economics Students Learning through Undergraduate Research
ZAMIRA S. SIMKINS (University of Wisconsin-Superior)
Tools for the Trade: Helping Business Majors See Value in Economics
MANDIE WEINANDT (University of South Dakota)
Making Economics Interactive: A Holistic Approach to Teaching
NATALIA V. SMIRNOVA (American Institute for Economic Research)
MICHELLE RYAN (American Institute for Economic Research)
Analyze This!
JILL BECCARIS-PESCATORE (Montgomery County Community College)
Inspiring Creativity through Intercollegiate Competitions
JAMES E. TIERNEY (Pennsylvania State University)
KALINA STAUB (University of Toronto-Mississauga)
KIM HOLDER (University of West Georgia)
WAYNE GEERLING (Pennsylvania State University)
TERM IT! : A Term-Based Method that Quickly Transforms Students into Thinking and Writing "Macro-Economically" or "Micro-Economically"
CAROLINE KABA (Glendale Community College)
Crowdsourcing Test-Aids in Economics Courses
LEILA FARIVAR (Ohio State University)
50 Movies for 50 Years: A Look at the Most Influential Films Related to Economics from 1965 to 2014
G. DIRK MATEER (University of Arizona)
KIM HOLDER (University of West Georgia)
J. BRIAN O’ROARK (Robert Morris University)
Capitalism, Communism, and the Mixed Economy: A Classroom Simulation
JAMES BRUEHLER (Eastern Illinois University)
ALAN GRANT (Baker University)
LINDA S. GHENT (Eastern Illinois University)
Dive In! Tips for Teaching Economics Through "Shark Tank"
CHARITY-JOY ACCHIARDO (University of Arizona)
ABDULLAH AL-BAHRANI (Northern Kentucky University)
DARSHAK PATEL (University of Tennessee-Martin)
BRANDON J. SHERIDAN (North Central College)
Teaching Pluralist Introductory Economics - No, It's Not Too Early
IRENE VAN STAVEREN (Erasmus University Rotterdam)
A Connection System in Economics Education
Research Oriented Learning and Teaching in Economics
JAN H. HOFFLER (University of Gottingen)
SUSANNE WIMMELMANN (University of Gottingen)
Economics: The (not so) Dismal Science
SIMON MEDCALFE (Georgia Regents University)
Connecting Supply and Demand - An Interactive Visualization
ADALBERT MAYER (Washington College)
[Download Preview]
The One Minute Paper and a New Use for the Airplane Production Exercise
AMY HENDERSON (St Mary's College of Maryland)
Teaching "The Theory of Second Best"
RANGANATH MURTHY (Western New England University)
The Undergraduate Economics Capstone Course: Bringing it All Together through Service-Learning
WILLIAM ALAN BARTLEY (Transylvania University)
An Application of Benefit-Cost Analysis to Assess Career Changes
BRIAN W. SLOBODA (University of Phoenix and U.S. Department of Labor)
Student Social Media Preferences for Learning Economics
HOWARD H. COCHRAN, JR. (Belmont University)
MARIETA V. VELIKOVA (Belmont University)
BRADLEY D. CHILDS (Belmont University)
Pay for Play? Engaging Students through a Graded Multiplayer Prisoner's Dilemma
ALAN GREEN (Stetson University)

Jan 04, 2015 2:30 pm, Sheraton Boston, Hampton Room 
National Association of Economic Educators

New Initiatives in Teaching, Learning, and Assessment in Postsecondary Economics (A2) (Panel Discussion)

Panel ModeratorSAM ALLGOOD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
AMANDA BAYER (Swarthmore College) Advanced Placement Exams in Economics
WILLIAM WALSTAD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) Test of Understanding in College Economics (TUCE)
RAE JEAN GOODMAN (United States Naval Academy) OECD's Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO)
JOSIPA ROKSA (University of Virginia) SSRC's Measuring College Learning (MCL) Project

Jan 04, 2015 8:00 pm, Sheraton Boston, Republic Ballroom A & B 
American Economic Association

7th Annual Economics Humor Session in Honor of Caroline Postelle Clotfelter (Y9)

PresidingJODI BEGGS (Northeastern University and Economists Do It With Models)
Rockonomix: Integrating Economics and Popular Music
KIM HOLDER (University of West Georgia )
Was that Rational? The American Economic (Year in) Review
JAMES E. TIERNEY (Pennsylvania State University)
Dual Mandate
MERLE HAZARD (merlehazard.com)
Homer-Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics
JOSHUA HALL (West Virginia University )
A Few Goodmen: Surname-Sharing Economist Coauthors
ALLEN C. GOODMAN (Wayne State University)
JOSHUA GOODMAN (Harvard University)
LUCAS GOODMAN (University of Maryland)
SARENA GOODMAN (Federal Reserve Board)
[Download Preview]
We the Economy
Economic-con 2015: A Theory of Maximizing Social Welfare via Top Decile Earners
ZACH WEINERSMITH (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)
Economic Actors
JODI BEGGS (Northeastern University and Economists Do It With Models )

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Timely links

If you need to procrastinate from end-of-semester responsibilities...
  • PNC's Christmas Price Index is out and Christmas is a little more expensive this year.
  • If you're looking for gift ideas for stat geeks, this Etsy page is worth checking out (I totally want to get some of the stuffed normal distributions to give out in my data class!).
  • Before you read your student evaluations, read this post from Faculty Focus to help keep any negative comments in perspective.
  • And if grading has you in despair about your students, another good post from Faculty Focus has some nice reminders of the reasons we really do love teaching.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Directions

For anyone who was wondering: yes, I'm still alive! But the last few months have certainly been interesting! In July, I was asked to be the Director of our Center for Teaching and Learning, so August was mostly a blur of meetings (and extreme stress!) as I tried to get up to speed and ready for the start of the school year. It's taken me this long to feel like I have some clue about what I'm doing (or at least, to feel like I can fake having a clue with reasonable credibility :-)). It's definitely been an adjustment. The position is sort of halfway between administration and faculty, which turns out to mean that when I'm in a room with mostly staff and administrators, I find myself speaking as a faculty person, and when I'm in a room with mostly faculty, I tend to find myself speaking as an administrator. That's not always fun but on the plus side, I feel like in both situations, I have an opportunity to move the conversation in productive directions.

I'm still half-time in the Econ department, although I'm not teaching this semester; I'll be teaching one class each year and I chose to hold onto my writing class which we usually offer in the spring. I just did a presentation at the National Economics Teaching Conference on integrating writing (the materials for all the sessions, including mine, can be downloaded from that link) and hope to write soon about some of the questions that were raised there. But one consequence of my new position is that I'm now much more interested in/aware of how teaching issues affect faculty across the university, not just in economics, and I may start exploring some of those issues in posts here as well.

Happy holidays everyone! May you have much for which to be thankful...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Useful links: Micro principles edition

  • Amazon’s explanation of their dealings with Hachette provide a great, highly-specific example of the connection between elasticity and total revenue. You could ask students to use the provided data to calculate what Amazon thinks is the price-elasticity of demand for e-books. In addition, this InsideHigherEd post raises some good points about substitutes and pricing strategies across books.
  • All Things Considered aired a story this week entitled “Why are theater tickets cheaper on the West End than on Broadway?” In discussing the price difference between tickets in New York and London, the story touches on multiple economic concepts, including economies of scale, product differentiation, price discrimination, subsidies and substitutes.
  • The next time your students ask you what they can do with an economics degree, you may want to share this article with them. It’s about how economists are increasingly being hired by tech companies to talk data and PR to customers and the media. I do have to say, I find it interesting that economists are not exactly known for their great communication skills but the article makes it sound a bit like finding economists with the skills to communicate effectively with the public is no big deal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Useful links for beginning scholars

Back in April, I mentioned that the Journal of Econ Ed had several articles providing advice for those who submit papers to the JEE. Two other recent publications may also be useful, particularly for grad students and those at the beginning of their academic careers:
  • In The Art and Science of Scholarly Publishing, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Maureen Pirog, provides some great do’s and don’ts for getting published in peer-reviewed outlets. She also summarized her main points for Inside Higher Ed.
  • The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) has a wonderful guide for academics about how to write for non-academics, called Going Public: Writing about research in everyday language. Although the focus is on education research, Mark Dynarski and Ellen Kisker’s advice applies to anyone doing policy-relevant research.
And of course, younger scholars should not miss the Primer for New Teachers of Economics in the Southern Economic Journal (an ungated version is available on my website).