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Friday, July 31, 2009

Cool tool: Internet for Economics

The UK's Intute has created what looks like an incredibly useful tool for students, called Internet for Economics. It's a tutorial on how to use the internet to do research in economics. What I really like about it is that aside from just providing links to useful econ sites, it discusses the difference between academic sources that may be available online (e.g., through a library database or Google Scholar) and other sources that may turn up in a Google search, and how students should evaluate whether a source is appropriate for their research. For anyone teaching a research class (or simply assigning research papers), I would imagine this would be a great resource.
[Hat tip to Economics in Action]

Monday, July 13, 2009

What are the costs?

I came across an interesting discussion about a 19-year-old intern who was fired from The Gazette in Colorado Springs for plagiarism. There appears to be some controversy over the fact that the editor publicly named the girl in a letter to readers (explaining and apologizing for the plagiarism), with some people saying that doing so was unduly harsh because this incident will now follow her for the rest of her career. I was intrigued by this discussion for two reasons - one, it seems pretty clear to me that this was not a case of ignorance (as I have often encountered with my own students who have no idea how to paraphrase or cite correctly) and two, putting aside the offense itself, I have often struggled with how to handle situations where there are long-term repercussions for a student, repercussions that lead the overall costs to be far higher than might seem warranted for the specific situation.

As an example of the latter issue, I have occasionally taught seniors who need to pass my class in order to fulfill their graduation requirements; if they don't pass, they don't graduate. As a general rule, I don't believe this should matter since students know perfectly well what they need to do to pass my classes. But this past spring, I had the added complication of teaching a writing-intensive course that satisfies a University writing requirement. One of my students received a D in the class, not because of his writing but because he turned in several assignments late (and missed a couple minor assignments completely). If his grade were based entirely on the quality of his writing, he would have earned a B but he lost so many points for other things that it dropped him to a D. The problem is that he needed a C to satisfy the University writing requirement. When he came to ask me what he could do to raise his grade (after semester grades were posted), my first response was, "Nothing - you earned a D and I can't change your grade just because you need a different grade." But I was torn, partly because I did feel like the student had satisfied the writing requirement the University wanted him to fulfill and it seemed a bit extreme for some late assignments to keep him from graduating.* I should also say that I felt a small bit of responsibility because I was not as transparent in my grading as I usually am (it was a new course and I fell way behind with posting grades in Blackboard) so the student was not aware that his grade was in such dangerous territory. The hard-ass in me wants to say that it was still his responsibility while the burnt-out part of me wants to just make the situation go away. I told the student to find out if there was some way to get the requirement waived, that I'd be willing to sign something that says he satisfied the writing requirement but without changing his grade, but the University wouldn't allow that. So I'm still trying to decide what to do...

* He could certainly take another writing class over the summer or in the fall to fulfill the requirement but since he had already applied to graduate in May, he's no longer officially a student so it would become quite expensive to take a class (and with California's budget situation, not clear that he could get a class even if he could pay for it).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Can students self-assess? Should we ask them to?

The Teaching Professor suggests that they can and we should:
Can students accurately assess their work? Most of us would say no with some conviction. But could they accurately evaluate their work under conditions that separated the grade they’d like to receive from the one they think their work deserves? A study in Great Britain found that they could. Even more surprising, the 160 students in this sample were first semester college students. The researcher asked them to estimate their grade on completed work using a 100 percentage point scale and 60 percent of them were within 10 percent of the grade given by the teacher. Equally surprising was the fact that when students were not within 10 percent, under-evaluation occurred more often than over-evaluation. Almost 60 percent under estimated their grade.

...However, other research has shown that students are quite mystified as to the purpose behind teachers’ requests to self assess. They don’t understand why the teacher who has complete control over the grade would ask them to evaluate their work. Teachers need to explore with students the role of this skill in professional contexts and then design activities that give students the opportunity to practice and develop the skill—which is not the same as asking them to “grade” their work.
This has me thinking about the writing class I taught this past spring. Among the problems I had was explaining to students a) the value of revising their work and b) how to truly revise their papers, as opposed to simply fixing the typos and grammatical errors that I pointed out in their first drafts. I wonder what would happen if I asked them to assess their first drafts by asking them:
1) what grade do think you will receive?
2) what grade do you think you deserve?
3) If there is a discrepancy between your answers to #1 and #2, please explain. [My prior is that the grade they think they deserve will be the same or higher than the grade they believe they will receive so their answers may reveal something about what they think of how I grade]
4) Given additional time, what could you do to improve your paper? [Although I know that some students will say they don't know, I assume that at least a few students will be able to recognize that their papers could be better, which should lead to a discussion of a) why didn't they do those things in the first place and b) how to incorporate those things into their revisions]

I have never had students do this sort of self-assessment before so I have no idea what the results might be...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Burn-out, blogging and best intentions

A few weeks ago, I posted a tweet and facebook status that said, "Dear non-academics: "Must be nice to have summers off" is equivalent to calling me lazy and not doing my job. Please refrain. Thanks." Every summer, I get those comments about having time 'off' and every summer, I try not to be annoyed by them. It's not that I don't understand where the perception comes from but as I've been telling my friends and family for years, having flexibility about when and where I work is not the same thing as not working.

But this summer, I have to admit that part of my defensiveness is driven by guilt because I'm NOT working as hard as I have in the past (and no, it's not because I have tenure). I'm just burnt out. I feel like, by the end of the school year, teaching the 500-seater plus two entirely new courses had sucked up all the energy and creativity I had, not to mention pretty much every ounce of patience. When the semester ended, I had to finish up a bunch of research- and service-related work that I had been putting off until after finals but since then, I've been having a really hard time getting anything else (work-related) done.

I'm saying this as a sort of mea culpa because one of the things I feel guilty about is that I haven't been as consistent as I'd like about posting on this blog. Unfortunately, the topic of this blog makes it a little too much like the work that has me so burnt out. But I know that this feeling will eventually pass and I don't want to just let the blog die. So I'm re-dedicating myself to posting more regularly - some posts may be shorter and some may stray a bit off-topic, but I'd really rather this not become one of the millions of blogs that have been abandoned. I'm announcing this here and now as a sort of commitment mechanism - feel free to hold me to it!