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Saturday, June 3, 2017

CTREE 2017

Thank you to everyone who presented, discussed, chaired and attended! This was the first time I have been the chair of a conference organizing committee and while it was a lot of work, it was also a lot of fun and I'm pretty proud of the program we put together. A few highlights for me:
  • I was psyched to see multiple papers where the authors were looking at the impact of something happening in one course by focusing on outcomes at a later point in time, like performance in the follow-on intermediate course. One of my biggest problems with a lot of the SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) literature is that in most effectiveness studies, the outcomes are within-course measures, like scores on a final exam or final course grades. While it's certainly reassuring that outcomes like these are not negatively affected by pedagogical changes like active learning, I have always felt that the more important questions involve what happens after students leave our classroom. Do they retain more? Do they understand at a deeper level? Can they transfer what they have learned to new and different situations? In my mind, these are the outcomes that active learning should be helping with. Of course, data on students is harder to get once they have left our class but it's great to see more people working to get at these longer-term effects.
  • Another reason I think it's important to follow students beyond the end of the semester we have them is because regardless of academic 'performance', I believe pedagogical choices that engage students probably also makes them more likely to become majors but there is a really small amount of research on this. Looking for some of that research is on my to-do list, prompted in part by the awesome plenary by David Wilcox at the Fed dinner on Wednesday night. Since I'm not a macro person, the Fed dinner is usually not that interesting to me but Wilcox devoted his time to discussing diversity (and the lack thereof) in the profession. I have a lot of ideas about this and hope to write more about some of them soon...
  • I was also pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the first plenary which focused on personal financial education. I have to admit, I tend to downplay the connection between personal finance and economics, in part because I really don't want people to think economics is "just" about balancing a checkbook, but Annamaria Lusardi made a compelling case for teaching financial literacy that made me realize how closely connected it is to what I think of as economic literacy. If we can do a better job of teaching financial literacy to students, they will be well on their way to understanding economic literacy more generally.  
In addition to re-invigorating my passion for economics education, it was simply great to see old friends and meet new ones, as well as just put faces with all the names I had come to know from doing the program. To those who attended, I hope you found it more valuable than your next best alternative!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Econ Ed at the ASSAs

For those who will be braving the Chicago winter to attend the ASSA meetings, I hope to see you at one of the teaching-related sessions! And don't forget the AEA's Committee on Economics Education's reception on Friday evening!


AEA Committee on Economic Education Poster Session
Friday, Jan. 6, 2017; 8:00 AM– 10:00 AM
Hyatt Regency Chicago, Toronto
Hosted By: AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION
Chair: Steve Cobb, University of North Texas

MACRO Monopoly: Applying a Game-Based Economic Development Lesson
Kim Holder , University of West Georgia

Using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to Teach Economics Concepts
Matthew Pham , Landmark College
Jim Koskoris , Landmark College

In Search of Best Classroom Practices
Hari S. Luitel , Algoma University

Oxford-Style Inspired Academic Competitive Debates With a Twist on Hot Topics of International Economics and Finance
Sylwia E. Starnawska , State University of New York-Empire State College

Industrial Design at the Service of Teaching Economics: 3D-Printed Prototypes and Materialized Demonstrations of Utility and Production Functions
Seyyed Ali Zeytoon Nejad Moosavian , North Carolina State University

An Atlas of Economics: Teaching Tools for Navigating the “Big Picture”
Alexandra Naumenko , North Carolina State University
Seyyed Ali Zeytoon Nejad Moosavian , North Carolina State University

The Use of an Online Discussion Forum by Students to Collaborate on the Development of a Study Guide in Applied Econometrics
Rod D. Raehsler , Clarion University

Reshaped for High-Level Learning: Student Outcomes in the Redesign of an Undergraduate Macroeconomics Course
Lawrence P. DeBoer , Purdue University
Anna Josephson , Purdue University
David B. Nelson , Purdue University

Media Resources for Teaching Behavioral Economics
G.  Dirk Mateer , University of Arizona
Charity Joy Acchiardo , University of Arizona
Marie Briguglio , University of Malta

Encouraging Students to Form Study Groups in Learning Economics
Jennjou Chen , National Chengchi University
Tsui-Fang Lin , National Taipei University

Is Less More?
Richard G. Anderson , Lindenwood University
Areerat Kichkha , Lindenwood University
Michael J. Mathea , Lindenwood University

Inflation and Government Economic Policies
Brian W. Sloboda , University of Maryland and University College

Game Theory, Gamified
Adam Galambos , Lawrence University

Stimulation with Simulation: Oligopoly Markets at Work
Mandie Weinandt , University of South Dakota

Comparing Delivery Mode: Student Learning in Money and Banking
Kathryn Birkeland , University of South Dakota

Indexing Multimedia Resources for Digital Pedagogies in Economic Education
Howard H. Cochran, Jr. , Belmont University
Marieta V. Velikova , Belmont University
Bradley D. Childs , Belmont University

Informal Writing in Economics
Ranganath Murthy , Western New England University

Syllabus and Economics: Reasoning With Generation “Why”
Mariya Burdina , University of Central Oklahoma
Sue Lynn Sasser , University of Central Oklahoma

Improving Assessment of Learning in Economics Courses With Value-Added Analysis of Test Scores
William B. Walstad , University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Jamie Wagner , University of Nebraska-Omaha


Great Ideas for Making the Principles of Economics Relevant
 Panel Discussion
 Friday, Jan. 6, 2017    10:15 AM    – 12:15 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Regency D
Hosted By:  AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION
Chair:  Gail Hoyt, University of Kentucky

Panelist(s)
Dean Karlan , Yale University
Topic: Economic Development and Poverty
David Cutler , Harvard University
Topic: Health Care Issues and Policy
Cecilia Rouse , Princeton University
Topic: The Economics of Education and Policy


Economic Education: Interaction of Economics, Financial Literacy, and Mathematics 
Paper Session
 Friday, Jan. 6, 2017    12:30 PM    – 2:15 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Randolph 1
Hosted By:  NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ECONOMIC EDUCATORS
Chair:  Carlos Asarta, University of Delaware

At What Age Should High School Students Take Their Capstone Personal Finance Course?
Andrew T. Hill , Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
Carlos Asarta , University of Delaware

Financial Literacy and Education in the First Semester of College: What Do Students Know and Learn?
Elizabeth Breitbach , University of South Carolina
Jamie Wagner , University of Nebraska-Omaha
William B. Walstad , University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Exploring Interdependence between Mathematical Ability, Economics and Financial Literacy
Abdullah Al-Bahrani , Northern Kentucky University
Whitney Douglas-Buser , Young Harris College
Kim Holder , University of West Georgia
Darshak Patel , University of Kentucky

Economics Across the Curriculum: Effective Delivery of Economics Instruction to High School Students
Natalia V. Smirnova , American Institute for Economic Research

Discussant(s)
Jamie Wagner , University of Nebraska-Omaha
Kim Holder , University of West Georgia
Carlos Asarta , University of Delaware

The Economics Major: Present and Future
Paper Session
 Friday, Jan. 6, 2017    2:30 PM    – 4:30 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Atlanta
Hosted By:  AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION
Chair:  Sam Allgood, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Trends in Enrollment in Economics and Other Undergraduate Majors
Wendy Stock , Montana State University

Undergraduate Economics Coursework and Financial Behaviors Over Time
William Bosshardt , Florida Atlantic University
William B. Walstad , University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Preparing Students to "Do Economics" After Graduation
Gail Hoyt , University of Kentucky
KimMarie McGoldrick , University of Richmond

Learning Outcomes for Economists
Sam Allgood , University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Amanda Bayer , Swarthmore College

Discussant(s)
David C. Colander , Middlebury College
Carly Urban , Montana State University
Eric P. Chiang , Florida Atlantic University
Lee Coppock , University of Virginia


Teaching the Great Recession Using Radical Economics
Paper Session
 Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017    8:00 AM    – 10:00 AM
 Swissotel Chicago, Monte Rosa
Hosted By:  UNION FOR RADICAL POLITICAL ECONOMICS
Chair:  Jared Ragusett, Central Connecticut State University

The Great Recession and College Freshmen: A Radical Perspective
Rachel Dennis , Buffalo State College
Wiliam Ganley , Buffalo State College

Teaching the Great Recession: A Role-Playing Exercise
Rojhat Avsar , Columbia College

An Institutionalist’s Approach to the Teaching of the Great Recession in an Undergraduate-Level Money and Banking Course
Valerie Kepner , King’s College

The Political Economy of the Great Recession at Central Connecticut State University
Jared Ragusett , Central Connecticut State University


New Content for Introductory Economics
Panel Discussion
 Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017    10:15 AM    – 12:15 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Crystal B
Hosted By:  AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION
Chair:  Edward L. Glaeser, Harvard University

Panelist(s)
Timothy Besley , London School of Economics and Political Science
E. Glen Weyl , Microsoft Research and Yale University
Wendy Carlin , University College London
Samuel Bowles , Santa Fe Institute
Paul Solman , PBS NewsHour, Yale University, and Gateway Community College


Updating the Undergraduate Econometrics CurriculumPaper Session
 Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017    10:15 AM    – 12:15 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Regency D
Hosted By:  AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION
Chair:  Derek Neal, University of Chicago

Time Series Econometrics for the 21st Century
Bruce E. Hansen , University of Wisconsin-Madison

Undergraduate Econometrics Instruction: Through Our Classes, Darkly
Joshua Angrist , Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Perspectives on Teaching Introductory Econometrics
Jeffrey Wooldridge , Michigan State University


Teaching Macroeconomics Using Data
Panel Discussion
 Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017    12:30 PM    – 2:15 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Randolph 1
Hosted By:  NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ECONOMIC EDUCATORS
Chair:  Carlos Asarta, University of Delaware

Panelist(s)
William Goffe , Pennsylvania State University
Diego Mendez-Carbajo , Illinois Wesleyan University
Mark Maier , Glendale Community College
Keith G. Taylor , Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Evidence-Based Teaching in Economics
Paper Session
 Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017    2:30 PM    – 4:30 PM
 Hyatt Regency Chicago, Toronto
Hosted By:  AMERICAN ECONOMIC ASSOCIATION
Chair:  Jennifer Imazeki, San Diego State University

Evidence-Based Teaching in Economics: An Overview
Jennifer Imazeki , San Diego State University

Maximizing Efficient Student Talk: Lessons from Team-Based Learning and Cooperative Learning
Mark Maier , Glendale Community College

Adaptive Learning as a Tool to Build Content Mastery
Karen Gebhardt , Colorado State University

Are Your Students Absent, Not Absent, or Present? Mindfulness and Student Performance
Eric P. Chiang , Florida Atlantic University
Albert J. Sumell , Youngstown State University

Discussant(s)
Jose J. Vazquez Cognet , University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
Molly Espey , Clemson University
William Goffe , Pennsylvania State University
Oskar Harmon , University of Connecticut

Friday, November 4, 2016

Giving thanks for my privilege...

As Director of the CTL, I have organized a series of events this year around the theme 'Teaching the Whole Student'. Each of the events focuses on a different aspect of student identity and how those identities may impact their experience in our classrooms. So far, we've had one on international students, LGBTQ+ students, and students in emotional distress; next up is military-affiliated students and in the spring, we're addressing first-gen students, bilingual students, microaggressions and sexual assault.

Although I consider myself a pretty enlightened person, each of the events so far has taught me a lot and made me think a little harder about how different my own experience is/has been from many of my students. One thought that I keep coming back to is how many things about my everyday life that I take for granted, particularly things that I am able to say, do or feel (or not feel) that other people cannot. In other words, I keep thinking about my privilege.

That led me to post the following on my Facebook earlier today. I'm sharing here because I think that as teachers, we have a special obligation to be aware of our privilege, and how it can make us different from our students. I'll come back and update this post throughout the month with my individual posts about privilege...

"On occasion in the past, I have used Thanksgiving being in November as an opportunity to give thanks throughout the month for the many blessings in my life, both publicly and privately. This fall, for various reasons, I have been repeatedly reminded that there are many blessings I take for granted that other people simply do not have; in other words, I’ve been struck by how much privilege I enjoy. That may sound odd coming from an Asian-American woman but “privilege” is defined as a special right, advantage or immunity available only to some people and not others. Given that definition, I clearly enjoy a TON of privilege. Over two decades ago, Peggy McIntosh, wrote: “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions...” Although she was referring specifically to white privilege, I believe that any time one is part of a majority group, or when one is part of a group that holds a certain amount of power or status, there is a similar invisible knapsack of privilege you carry (some clearly bigger than others).

Right now in particular, I think we all could use a little more awareness about our own invisible knapsacks - the things we are able to do, have, say, or feel without even thinking about them but that are not available to others. So this is a heads up that throughout this month, I plan to post a bunch of FB posts giving thanks for my privilege.

I’m writing this introductory post because my intention is not to make anyone feel guilty or judged. Many people think that saying “X has privilege Y” is implying that X should NOT have that privilege, that Y should be taken away from X. But I think what is usually meant (and definitely what *I* mean) is that Y should not be a *privilege*, something available only to certain people and not others, but should be available to *everyone*. So I don’t think anyone needs to feel guilty for having privilege but I DO think it’s important to acknowledge that what we have IS privilege, and to be grateful when we receive benefits by virtue of our membership in a particular group if those benefits are not available to everyone. I do also believe privilege carries a responsibility to make sure that privilege is not abused (and even better if you are doing something to make your privilege available to more people) but you can’t do that if you don’t even recognize it in the first place.

Because a lot of people associate privilege with things like race or gender, I specifically want to point out that at least some of the privileges I have been thinking about are things I get because I am part of a group that I worked to be a part of – for example, I worked damn hard for the privilege I experience as a tenured professor. But that doesn’t mean I should take those benefits for granted. My larger point is simply that it’s good to recognize when we receive benefits that not everyone receives; doing so can build empathy and gratitude, both of which help us be happier people (and god knows, I could use some happy these days).

My hope is that by stating my privilege publicly, those who share that privilege might be prompted to think about what it means for those who don’t share it. And for those who don’t share it, I hope they might feel a bit more understood. For now, I will be making these posts public but reserve the right to delete any comments from people I consider disrespectful. Thoughtful (as in, ‘full of thought’) comments from my many awesome friends are always welcome…

p.s. I am not at all sure that this is a good idea but it’s been stuck in my brain and I think the only way to get it out is to actually post this. We’ll see what happens…"

Day 1: I am thankful that as a woman of color, I can talk about race and gender issues without feeling guilty, or like people want me to apologize for the words and deeds of others.

Friday, August 26, 2016

I pronounce it "ih-muh-ZEH-key"

As those who actually speak Japanese have told me, it really should be "Eee-mah-zeh-key" (equal emphasis) but it's definitely NOT 'Eye-ma-zeek-key', 'Ih-mask-ee' or (don't ask me why) 'Ihm-ski'. I'm not entirely sure why it's hard for people - in my mind, my name is actually pronounced pretty much how it looks but I think the proximity of a 'z' and 'k' throws people off. Interestingly, Spanish speakers tend to be the best at pronouncing it correctly because Japanese pronunciation of vowels is similar to Spanish.

But my entire life, on the first day of a class with a new teacher (and sometimes even those I'd had before), they would start calling roll, and I would brace myself as they got closer to the I's. Many times, I could tell when they got to my name on the roster because after a Joe Holmes or Jane Howard, there would be that slight pause, at which point I'd usually just jump in and call out my name for them, and the instructor would give me a thankful smile of relief.

That was my experience for 20 years of classes and yet, for some reason, up until literally a month ago, it never occurred to me to make any particular effort to learn how to pronounce my own students' names. Even as I write that, I am horrified to admit it. And yet, ever since I began teaching, I have gone into the first day of class and called roll, simply prefacing my name-butchering with a lame, "Please forgive me for all the names I am about to mispronounce." Sometimes I would add, "Teachers have been mispronouncing my name my entire life" as if that somehow made it OK for me to do it to them. I think because it happens so often to me, although it's mildly annoying, I just don't think about it much and I just figured it wasn't a big deal. And honestly, it can be really hard to learn certain names and even when I try, I sometimes can't get it right and then I feel like I must be offending that person even more.

But in July, I was in a workshop on inclusive pedagogy and one of the facilitators was talking about the little things that instructors can do that can make a big impact in how welcome a student feels, and she mentioned learning names. She pointed out that instead of calling roll from the roster, you could go around the room and simply have students say their own names - you could even record them so you could go home and practice saying it the way THEY say it. For some reason, a huge lightbulb went off in my head - DUH! I don't need to call out their names, I could make THEM tell ME how to say their names the way they want them said!

I honestly don't know why I never thought about this before. Maybe it's because I've never had a teacher who modeled this behavior. But what if I had? What if I had had a teacher who had shown that they were making a real effort to learn my name and say it correctly? When I have come across the rare individuals who actually pronounce my name correctly right from the beginning, it always makes a (positive) impression on me but I think I'm often even more impressed with the people who get it wrong but then keep trying, keep asking me to repeat it, until they get it right. I would have really loved to have a teacher who made that kind of effort.

To be fair, I have always made an effort to learn my students' first names and I know that they notice. I have often thought it makes a difference in getting some quieter students to participate when I can call on them by name. I have to think that if I had put equal effort into learning their last names and making sure I was pronouncing both first and last names correctly, it could have made an even bigger difference, particularly for students who are at highest risk of being marginalized (such as asian international students who I have noticed tend not to talk as much in my classes).

Do you learn how to pronounce all your students' names? Any suggestions for how to do it?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Random post-CTREE thoughts...



Just got back from CTREE – many thanks to everyone who helped make it such a success! I had some great conversations, heard some super-interesting papers, and generally got re-invigorated, not just about teaching but about economics. Some random thoughts, just to get them out of my brain:

  • In the first plenary, Susan Laury mentioned an ‘experiment’ she learned from Dirk Mateer to show gains from trade. She brings a bunch of random items to class and distributes them to a group of students and asks them to rate their happiness with the item. They then have the option to trade; once trading is complete, they again rate their happiness. Generally, total happiness should increase, showing the gains from trade alone. I just wanted to add that I do a similar activity that I got from Gail Hoyt but in that version, you make ‘tickets’ for a range of events (like concerts or sports events) and give those to the students, and I ask them to state their willingness to pay for the ticket they get. I particularly like that version since you can get a laugh from having tickets for events like Muppets on Ice or Monster Truck Mania.
  • Next year there really needs to be a hand-on workshop on how to DO Team-Based Learning (if anyone is curious, I’ve written all about my TBL experience in a series of posts back in 2012).
  • Rush hour traffic in Atlanta really sucks! But the MARTA train is great.
  • In the Thursday plenary, Thomas Nechyba talked about re-organizing the curriculum to make it easier to encourage and support undergraduate research. While I thought it must be great to be in the department at Duke, I also thought, “I can’t imagine my department ever buying that.” Maybe someday I’ll be department chair and find out…
  • I need to find out more about mindfulness in the classroom.
  • It’s super-cool that the set-up at military academies allows folks there to do truly randomized experiments. On the flip side, their students are so not my students.
  • Sam Allgood, Gail Hoyt and KimMarie McGoldrick have done a set of surveys on graduate student training that are fascinating. There is a not-really-surprising disconnect between what programs believe about the preparation of their students and what the students themselves think after they’ve been on the job a while. The depressing part is that given the departments don’t think their students need any additional training, it’s hard to see how to convince them that they’re wrong. 
  • We all really need to spend some time with the materials from the Measuring College Learning project. Wish the Econ stuff had been available last year when I was trying to get my department to rewrite our program Learning Outcomes.
The conference really gave me the shot in the arm that I've been needing. Hopefully I can keep that motivation going...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Still musing...

When I started this blog eight (OMG, has it really been EIGHT?!?) years ago, I didn't really have a plan - I just wanted to try out this blogging thing because I was thinking about having my students do it and figured that doing it myself would be the best way to learn how it all works. Over the years, I've largely used the blog to chronicle what I was doing in the classroom, mostly as a way of just reflecting and thinking about what was happening (I've always been a big journaler), but also with the thought that maybe by doing my thinking 'out loud', it might be helpful to someone, somewhere. Along the way, I feel like I've gotten to know many more economists who care about teaching and have felt part of a community that supports and reflects my own academic values, and I really can't express how awesome that has been!

But now I feel like I'm at a bit of a crossroads. My position as Director of SDSU's Center for Teaching and Learning has led me in a slightly different direction - I'm still thinking about teaching all the time but now it's less about teaching economics (especially since I'm in the econ classroom a lot less) and more about pedagogy in general. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure if this is the right path for me - I have always said that I don't just love to teach, I specifically love to teach economics, and I'm currently trying to figure out if I'll be able to bring the same passion to faculty development work around teaching in general. But those who follow the blog's Facebook page have seen that articles about pedagogy and college teaching in general have caught my attention lately much more than articles about applications of economics. And maybe that's OK, since I assume university economists reading this blog will still find those sorts of links useful.

But I'm trying to figure out what this new path means for this blog. I obviously haven't been as active here as I used to be and that isn't necessarily because I haven't had things I wanted to write about but more that I haven't known if they would be appropriate here. Is it 'OK' for me to write here about the issues I'm having adjusting to life as a faculty developer when that doesn't really have anything to do with teaching economics? A part of me thinks, 'hey, it's MY blog, I should write whatever I want' but another part of me feels sort of responsible to those who come here to read about teaching economics. I've thought about starting over with a whole different blog but the economist in me feels like that would, in some sense, be abandoning a really important aspect of who I am. I've thought about re-branding but, well, that just seems like a hassle.

So what to do? Is it cool if I start writing more here about my experiences as a faculty developer without worrying so much about the economics side of things? Or if that's what I want to do, should I do that somewhere else, or re-brand? Some of you have been following this blog for a while - some of you know me in real life and some only on the interwebs but either way, I'd really appreciate your thoughts...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Teaching 'soft skills'

A recent commentary in the Chronicle suggests that "To Solve the Skills Gap in Hiring, Create Expectations in the Classroom". The author notes that employers today report larger gaps in 'soft skills' like time management, work ethic, motivation and professionalism, than in technical skills; yet, the policies adopted by many college instructors do not do much to help students develop those necessary skills. The author refers to her own policies about expecting students to arrive to class and turn in work on time, not offering extra credit, etc.

I think most instructors try to find an appropriate balance between holding students accountable for acting like adults, and understanding that sometimes, life happens. For what it's worth, I thought folks might be interested in how I handle this, at least in my upper-division writing course. In that course, I use a form of specification grading - it's not full-blown specs grading but students' grades are based on performance in three categories: grades on final drafts of papers, points on all other assignments, and "professional responsibility". I explain in the syllabus and on the first day that "professional responsibility" means fulfilling the expectations of this course in a timely and responsible fashion: 
The Professional Responsibility portion of your grade is based entirely on your ability to display good workplace behavior. In general, this means displaying the following skills:
  • Time management: attend class and submit assignments on time; notify appropriate parties when circumstances require missing class or assignments.
  • Professional communication: emails are clear, well-written and relevant; discussion in and out of class is appropriate and respectful.
  • Professional conduct: follow directions; come to class prepared and use class time effectively; demonstrate self-awareness in accepting responsibility for own choices.
Warning: The most common violations of professional responsibility are 1) failure to follow directions, 2) poorly written or irrelevant emails (for example, asking a question that is clearly already answered on Blackboard) and 3) late assignments. I will start the semester assuming that you understand what constitutes professional behavior (and we will be discussing in more detail in class on the first day). After the first instance of unacceptable professional behavior, I will notify you, usually by email. After that, each incident will cost you ten points; however, I do reserve the right to waive this penalty in certain circumstances.
So this gets factored into their grade both through points and through an absolute cut-off for missed assignments - missing more than 2 assignments will reduce their grade to the B range, regardless of their points and grades on papers, missing more than 3 drops them to the C range and missing more than 4 drops them to the D range.

I also talk to them about the grades in terms of their "job performance". That is, in most jobs, you sit down with your manager periodically to review your performance and I tell my students that since their semester grades are a signal to future employers of what to expect from them as an employee, the way I think about grades corresponds to the categories that a lot employers use for those periodic reviews:
A (4)    Excellent work, worthy of bonus and promotion
B (3)    Good work, shows potential
C (2)    Meets basic requirements
D (1)    Needs significant improvement
F (0)    Unacceptable

This also helps me make the point that they should not expect an A or even a B for just showing up and doing all the work - that's what they are expected to do. A higher grade requires they show that they can do good work and go the extra mile. I think literally putting into terms that corresponds to a job makes sense to students, especially given that so many of my students see school as just a means to the end of getting a good job.

What do you do to help students develop these 'soft skills'?