I hope to get back to posting more regularly soon...
Welcome new readers!
Monday, June 30, 2008
I hope to get back to posting more regularly soon...
Friday, June 27, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
And because I still see incentives everywhere, I have to add that at least I can rest easy knowing that she died peacefully and of natural causes, not from the dreaded Dead Grandmother/Exam Syndrome!
Thursday, June 19, 2008
...choices do have to be made. It doesn't mean that we throw different groups of student under the bus, but any accountability system that holds people accountable for everything holds them accountable for nothing. So choices have to be made about emphasis. And considering the yawning achievement gaps, graduation rate gaps, and outcome gaps that separate poor and minority students from other students, that's where I'd argue the emphasis should be placed.Of course, you can avoid such choices if you spend more resources (more teachers, more hours in the classroom, more days in the school year). Unfortunately, policymakers and the general public routinely assume that public schools (and I'd extend this up to higher ed) don't need additional resources, they just somehow should do more with what they have. Since no one is going to argue that schools should do less for low-achieving students, surely one response to the Fordham report could be to call for additional resources so high-achievers are not left out. I'm not holding my breath but it could be very interesting to see if the policy response is any different when it is the parents of high-achievers (who, let's face it, are more likely to be affluent, well-educated and white) who are making those calls.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
But I digress... The point I wanted to make is that while re-thinking courses has always been a time-consuming undertaking, re-designing a course to incorporate new technology can be particularly time-consuming, and I wonder if the necessary time investment might be growing. It could just be me - I have spent much of my time exploring Web 2.0 tools (for example, setting up this blog!) and I've found this fascinating new world of blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc. to be both addictive and somewhat overwhelming. Every new blog I read leads me to others and every new tool I discover opens possibilities for my courses that I want to explore. I know that I'm probably biting off more than I should for my fall courses but I can see so much potential for using technology to make my 500-student class actually interactive that it's hard to hold back. I realize that other faculty, even those who are just as eager to improve their classes, may not dive in quite as deeply, nor would they need to.
But it also seems like every time I learn what one thing is, I see a reference to some new thing I haven't heard of before (Plurk? are you kidding? I just got onto Twitter!) and I sometimes feel completely overwhelmed by all the stuff I still don't know (is it just me or does Second Life intimidate the hell out of anyone else?). And that's just understanding what things are, let alone figuring out which tools might be most useful for improving my teaching. Yet, I know I'm way ahead of most of my faculty colleagues, some of whom can hardly find their way around Blackboard. So I wonder what will happen as the frontiers of technology pull farther ahead - will it become harder and harder for late adopters to catch up? Or might they actually have some sort of advantage because they'll be able to dive into Web 3.0 (or whatever it will be called) without having to unlearn the previous version? Or is adapting to/adopting new technology itself a skill, so even if you get a late start, you can learn how to adapt/adopt as you go?
* For those who are curious, I do research in education policy and am currently working in Sacramento on legislation that will hopefully lead to pretty major reform of California's school finance system. Since the legislative process is anything but smooth, I've had lots of time in-between meetings with legislators to work on other things, like my classes.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
The typical economist answer is that anytime someone chooses to do something, it must be that they believe the benefits outweigh the costs. Steve points out that the decision to redesign a course can be difficult because it takes a huge amount of time and effort (i.e., the costs are high) and old courses are working just fine (i.e, the benefits are low). I'd add that most universities give faculty depressingly little incentive to make that investment. Thus, the primary benefit is 'just' the intrinsic value I personally place on being as good a teacher as I can be, and as I've mentioned before, I tend to believe a person either has that desire or they don't.
On the other hand, I think that many professors DO make at least marginal changes to their courses over time - we all tinker between semesters, tweaking things we know did not work. I know that most of my colleagues in economics at least try to keep their examples updated, to tie material to relevant current events. Of course, that is not quite the same thing as thinking deeply about pedagogy and redesigning courses, but it seems like a good place to start with faculty who may otherwise be resistant to the idea of making larger changes to their courses. If they can be shown ways to incorporate new methods incrementally (for example, having students create current event examples for you via blogs or wikis), and can be convinced that technology can actually make their life easier in the long run, I would assume more faculty would be more willing to at least give Web 2.0 a try. That is, it seems to me that rather than asking why some faculty are more willing than others to innovate with their teaching, we should be asking how we can convince our colleagues that the costs of innovation are smaller than they think, and that the benefits are larger?
Friday, June 13, 2008
I was reminded of this when I saw a post on Zen Habits about taking responsibility. The post points out how many people fail to take responsibility for their lives; everything is someone else's fault. As a teacher, I see this all the time in my students (the excuses are generally more creative than 'the dog ate my homework' but they are excuses nonetheless). But what I try to get across to my students is that economists simply don't believe one can ever say, "I had no choice". Some decisions are so trivial (do you get up when the alarm goes off or hit snooze?) or so easy (your money or your life) that we may not think twice about them but they are still choices, and choices have consequences. Usually when someone says they "had no choice", it just means that the consequence of the alternative was so awful that the choice was easy but although it may be horrible to consider disappointing your parents or losing your job or even dying, that doesn't mean you have no choice about going to college or working overtime or handing over your wallet.
These may seem like bizarre examples - I'm certainly not advocating that students drop out of school or employees tell their bosses to jump in a lake. My point is that when you realize that all your actions are choices, it's harder to play the victim, to avoid taking at least a little responsibility. At the same time, it means you have more control, over the good AND the bad. Making good decisions requires being clear about the costs and benefits of your options but first you have to recognize that you HAVE options. I often think that if I can just get this one idea across to my students, to get them to REALLY believe it, then I will not only have taught them some economics but I will have helped them to become better people.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Monday, June 9, 2008
I find that really disappointing because as a teacher, I try to help my students separate out positive from normative. That includes pointing out that economics, as a field, often has normative judgments embedded in our core principles, the primary one being that efficiency is valued above all else. I do find it interesting that the Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics all seem to be carefully written as positive statements; for example, Standard #8 reads "Prices send signals and provide incentives to buyers and sellers. When supply or demand changes, market prices adjust, affecting incentives". In contrast, Principle #6 in Mankiw's textbook asserts that "Markets are usually a good way to organize economic activity." Hard to get more normative than saying something is good or bad. And it's not even that I disagree, I just think economists would have more credibility (not to mention a better reputation in general) if we were more upfront (or even aware) of the biases that are embedded in how we see the world.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Friday, June 6, 2008
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Monday, June 2, 2008
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Following up on my previous post, of course I realize that there is virtually zero chance that graduate schools will suddenly decide that they should expend resources on training their students to be better teachers. This is because, while I doubt there is a college administrator in the world who will ever say that undergraduate education isn’t their top priority, there simply isn’t sufficient demand for training grad students to teach well. Yes, there are many, many institutions that want good teachers; there are also just as many who really don’t care (or at least, it isn’t part of the hiring criteria). In economics, the latter group hires more Ph.D. students. I think there are also enough students who self-select into teaching to fill most of the positions with the former group. I was one of those students - I knew before I even got to grad school that I wanted to go teach at a small liberal arts college like my alma mater. So I volunteered to teach classes and I worked hard to figure out how to be a decent teacher. If enough people seem inclined to do the work on their own anyway, why should any University expend resources on providing training to grad students?So then maybe the real question is why isn’t there stronger demand for good teaching? Why don’t students demand it? And what does it take to shift a university culture that doesn’t seem to value teaching on par with research?