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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Mid-semester evaluation

It's Week 8 of our 15-week semester (yes, I keep track, though that's largely because my syllabus is laid out by week), so we're halfway through and this is usually around the time when I ask my students to do a mid-semester evaluation. This year, I'm a bit hesitant because honestly, I don't have the time or energy to make any real changes and my patience has already been stretched so thin by student demands that I'm loath to invite them to tell me what they think is wrong with the class. But I do think it's worth taking some time to reflect on how the semester is going.

In my Principles class, my main concern is that the pace of the class is too slow, that we are not "covering" as much material as we should. I'm sort of having a hard time assessing this because I switched around the order in which I'm presenting topics so things are a bit jumbled up. Judging from the responses to clicker questions, students seem to be grasping the material well, which should be a good sign but then it also makes me wonder if I am going "too slow". On the one hand, I am hoping that the better performance on the clicker questions is at least in part because students are actually listening to the podcasts I post before class and thus come to class more prepared; on the other hand, perhaps I have not appropriately compensated for the fact that they are coming to class more prepared so the material I discuss in class is just repetitive and they are bored to death.

Outside of class meetings, the discussion board assignments have bigger-than-expected costs for me, in terms of dealing with confused students, but seem to have big benefits for the students as well. A number of students have left comments along the lines of "I never would have thought about this as being connected to economics," which is exactly the point. Unfortunately, the activity that I think is probably the most useful for students, volunteering with Junior Achievement, has been a bit of a nightmare. I'm not sure if the JA folks were unprepared for the number of students or what, but a number of students were not able to participate because school placements just never happened. I'll have to think carefully about how to handle this in the future.

The Economics for Teachers class has had its ups and downs as well. The class is a mix of teaching economics and talking about teaching. I'm not at all sure that I've got the mix right (and at least one of my students has noted on her blog that I've got it wrong) so I'm already thinking about how to do things differently the next time. But for now, I'm consoling myself with the thought that at least my students are more interested than they would be in a regular economics class so anything they do learn about economics is likely to be a marginal addition to their understanding of the subject (and if any of those students are reading this, feel free to correct me in the comments, or on your own blogs!).

With both classes, I'm constantly reminding myself that teaching is an iterative process and if things don't go exactly as I'd like, I can always make improvements the next time. Of course, the Type A side of my personality still worries that I am shortchanging my current students but the economist in me tries to remember that there are always trade-offs and I can't do everything. Fortunately, there are also plenty of truly bright spots, like the students who come to ask me about switching their major to economics because they are finding my class so interesting. I hate to sound so cliche but in the end, it really is those students who make it all worth it.

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