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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).

Friday, May 30, 2014

EconEd Active: Ideas for an engaging classroom

One common challenge for instructors new to interactive teaching is deciding exactly what to do. From one perspective, there are tons of resources available (like all those listed on my ‘Resources for Teachers’ page), providing ideas about what to do and guidance on how to do it. But almost all of those resources are organized around pedagogy; for example, From ABBA to Zeppelin has great examples of song lyrics that can be used to teach economic concepts, Games Economists Play catalogs lots of ‘experiments’, and the Starting Point portal is organized by pedagogical tool (clickers, simulations, context-rich problems, etc.). But for folks who don’t already use these tools, how do you know which site to go to in the first place?

Many economists don’t think much about pedagogy, let alone think about it first. Instead, most people start with the content they know they want to ‘cover’ and then they think about how they are going to teach it. Once you are on a site like Games Economists Play, you can certainly search for examples addressing specific concepts (like ‘elasticity’ or ‘externalities’) but again, to get to the site, you first have to be thinking “I want to find an experiment for this”.

Last fall, I began working with the folks at Worth Publishers on a site for teachers who want to incorporate more active learning into their classes*. To make it more useful for those who may not do much interactive teaching currently, everything is organized under broad econ topics (loosely corresponding to common textbook chapters) rather than pedagogy, and each topic page has links to other resources from around the Web, as well as examples of clicker questions. The objective is not to catalog every possible option for activities but to give people an idea of the range of possibilities and get them started (the way I put it is that I am ‘curating’ the resources, not creating or cataloging them).

The site, called EconEd Active, is now up and running, though it is still (and will continue to be) a work in progress as I add more/new content. We’re also hoping folks who use these activities will contribute to the conversation, sharing insights from their own experiences; right now, the best way to do that is through the Facebook page.

If you’re new to interactive teaching, or you’re thinking about flipping your class and looking for things to do with the class time you’ve freed up, or you just attended CTREE and are energized to re-vamp your classes, I hope you’ll check out EconEd Active and let me know what you think!

* The site is provided by Worth but it isn’t associated with any particular textbook and is available to everyone.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

AEA Teaching Conference

After missing the last two, I'm on my way to the Fourth Annual AEA Conference on Teaching and Research in Economic Education (CTREE) in D.C. I'll be presenting in two different sessions about flipping the classroom, both on Thursday, at 8:30am (session B6) and at 11am (session C2). There are a ton of interesting sessions - I have no idea how I'll decide which ones to go to! If any readers are attending, come find me and say hi!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Share what you do!

The latest issue of the Journal of Economic Education has several must-read articles, written by the associate editors, providing advice about submitting your work to the different sections of the journal. If you are doing innovative things in your classroom, even if you are not doing controlled experiments or otherwise ‘proving’ effectiveness, you can still share what you’re doing in the Journal’s Instruction section. Personally, I usually find the articles in that section more useful for my actual teaching because they often provide descriptions of new activities or approaches, along with giving insight from the instructors about how things worked in the classroom.

While on the subject, the Starting Point site is also a great place to share what you’re doing (and to find really useful descriptions of activities you might want to try yourself). Each of the modules focuses on a different pedagogical tool and has examples of assignments and activities using that tool in economics. Some of the modules have more contributions than others, but anyone can submit examples. The submission page walks you though the information that is needed, all of which is aimed at making your description as useful as possible for other instructors.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Are you ready for the Common Core?

One of my sabbatical projects involves working with the San Diego Center for Economics Education to develop workshops for K-12 teachers related to economics and the Common Core State Standards. For any readers who are not familiar with the Common Core, here’s a super-quick summary: The Common Core is a set of standards for K-12 math and English language arts that have been adopted by almost every state, including California. There’s been a lot of hoopla about them in the media, partly because of the politics (contrary to what you may have heard, the Common Core standards were not forced on states by the Obama administration!), but for college instructors, the big thing you need to be aware of is the difference between the standards that most states previously had in place and the Common Core standards. To put it in simplest terms, the previous standards (at least in California, and most other states that I know of) focused primarily on CONTENT – i.e., what students are supposed to KNOW – while the Common Core focuses primarily on SKILLS – i.e., what students should be able to DO. So, for example, instead of simply identifying facts that can be found within a reading, students have to show they understand how and why those facts are relevant to the story or document. In math, instead of simply memorizing multiplication tables, students are asked to show the process of how they arrive at a solution (with a recognition that there can be multiple ways to arrive at the same answer). For those familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, the Common Core basically is trying to move all students up to the higher levels of learning.

The implementation of Common Core has been rocky in many states – it certainly has been in California – in part because the new standards really require many teachers to completely change the WAY they teach. It’s simply impossible to imagine how you can get students to meet the Common Core standards if all you’re doing is having them read textbooks and listening to lectures. Teachers will have to adopt more interactive pedagogies that allow students to engage more deeply with material so they can really practice those higher order skills.

One thing that worries me is that people in higher education don’t seem to be very aware of what’s going on with the Common Core. This is problematic because although the Common Core standards apply to K-12 schools, they are eventually – hopefully – going to have a huge impact on college classrooms: if K-12 schools successfully implement the standards, the students who walk into our classes are going to start looking very different, both in terms of what they know and can do, and in terms of what they EXPECT from us. On the plus side, they should have much better communication and analysis skills than our current freshman, which means we can ask more of them and take our classes to a higher level; on the other hand, if students have just spent 13 years in classes where they are asked to participate, to work in groups, to discuss and analyze – chances are, they’ll be pretty unhappy if we then ask them to just sit and listen to us talk at them.

So for me, Common Core provides yet another reason why moving away from lecture to more active learning pedagogies is not only something that we really SHOULD be doing for the benefit of our students, but in many ways, I believe it’s something we MUST be doing, or else we risk becoming obsolete.