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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Education sessions at the ASSA

For those attending the ASSA meetings, here are all the sessions I could find related to economic education. Also, if anyone wants suggestions for places to eat / things to do while in San Diego, particularly if you want to get away from the Gaslamp, feel free to drop me an email - I love sharing San Diego with folks!

UPDATE: From Mark Maier: There will be a meeting for economic educators interested in community college instruction prior to the regular sessions, January 3, 2013, 4 PM. Manchester Grand Hyatt, Room Molly A&B. All welcome.

Jan 04, 2013 8:00 am, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Manchester A
American Economic Association
Financial Literacy and Content Standards in the Schools (A2) (Panel Discussion)
Panel Moderator: B. DOUGLAS BERNHEIM (Stanford University and National Bureau of Economic Research)

ANNAMARIA LUSARDI (George Washington University)
BRIGITTE C. MADRIAN (Harvard University)
JOHN J. SIEGFRIED (Vanderbilt University)
WILLIAM B. WALSTAD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Jan 04, 2013 10:15 am, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Manchester F
American Economic Association
Topics in Economic Education (A2)
Presiding: NANCY ROSE (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Course Requirements for Bachelor’s Degrees in Economics
WILLIAM BECKER (Indiana University)
WILLIAM BOSSHARDT (Florida Atlantic University)
MICHAEL WATTS (Purdue University)
[Download Preview]

One Essay on Dissertation Styles in Economics
JOHN J. SIEGFRIED (Vanderbilt University)
WENDY STOCK (Montana State University)
[Download Preview]

How Economists Allocate Time to Teaching and Research
SAM ALLGOOD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
WILLIAM B. WALSTAD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
[Download Preview]
Economic Understanding in U.S. High Courses
WILLIAM B. WALSTAD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
[Download Preview]

DAVID COLANDER (Middlebury College)
JAMES M. POTERBA (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
DANIEL S. HAMERMESH (University of Texas-Austin)
GAIL HOYT (University of Kentucky)

Jan 04, 2013 12:30 pm, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Ford B
National Association of Economic Educators
Testing the Effectiveness of Economic Education at the K-12 level (A2)
Presiding: PAUL GRIMES (Pittsburg State University)

Results from the Review of the Test of Economic Literacy
WILLIAM B. WALSTAD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
KEN REBECK (St. Cloud State University)
ROGER B. BUTTERS (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Does High School Economics affect College Performance? Evidence from Georgia's Freshmen
BENJAMIN SCAFIDI (Georgia College)
JOHN R. SWINTON (Georgia College)

The Self Realization Theory: Academic Achievement Gap and Student's Loan Default
KAUSTAV MISRA (Saginaw Valley State University)

Should We Teach About Fair Trade?
JOHN BROCK (University of Colorado-Colorado Springs)
JANE LOPUS (California State University-East Bay)

BENJAMIN SCAFIDI (Georgia College)
KRISTIN KLOPFENSTEIN (University of Northern Colorado)
DENISE STANLEY (California State University-Fullerton)
PAUL W. GRIMES (Pittsburg State University)

Jan 04, 2013 2:30 pm, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Elizabeth Ballroom F
American Economic Association
Alternative Approaches to Teaching the Principles of Economics (A2)(Panel Discussion)
Panel Moderator: SAM A. ALLGOOD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

MARTHA L. OLNEY (University of California-Berkeley) Economics as a Language
ALEX TABARROK (George Mason University) Teaching the Solow Model in Principles
ROBERT FRANK (Cornell University) The Economic Naturalist
DAVID I. LAIBSON (Harvard University) A Behavioral Approach to Teaching Economics

Jan 05, 2013 10:15 am, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Randle A and B
American Economic Association
After the Crisis: What Did We Learn, and What Should We Teach, about Monetary Policy? (A2) (Panel Discussion)
Panel Moderator: JANET YELLEN (Federal Reserve Board)

MARTIN EICHENBAUM (Northwestern University)
BENJAMIN M. FRIEDMAN (Harvard University)
MARK GERTLER (New York University)
MICHAEL WOODFORD (Columbia University)

Jan 05, 2013 12:30 pm, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Ford B
National Association of Economic Educators
Size, Content, and Student Characteristics: What Matters in the Economics Classroom? (A2)
Presiding: JOHN SWINTON (Georgia College)

The Class Size Gap and Technology: Is Help a Click Away?
CHIARA GRATTON-LAVOIE (California State University-Fullerton)
DENISE STANLEY (California State University-Fullerton)

Going Deep or Going Wide: The Economics Curriculum
BRUCE K. JOHNSON (Centre College)
JOHN J. PERRY (Centre College)
MARIE PETKUS (Centre College)

Credit Cards and Credit Savvy: Financial Literacy and Credit Card Use by High School Students
ROGER B. BUTTERS (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
CARLOS J. ASARTA (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

College Performance and Labor Market Outcomes of Native Hawaiians
INNA CINTINA (University of Hawaii)

JOHN R. SWINTON (Georgia College)
KAUSTAV MISRA (Saginaw Valley State University)
WILLIAM BOSSHARDT (Florida Atlantic University)

Jan 05, 2013 2:30 pm, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Manchester D
American Economic Association
Economics Education Poster Session (A2) (Poster Session)
Presiding: STEVEN L. COBB (University of North Texas)

Staying Relevant: The Best Media for Teaching and Learning Economics in the Last Five Years
G. DIRK MATEER (Pennsylvania State University)
KIM HOLDER (University of West Georgia)

Competitive Analysis for a Firm Using Current Market Conditions
BRIAN W. SLOBODA (University of Phoenix and U.S. Postal Service)
AREERAT KICHKHA (Southern Illinois University-Carbondale)

Interactive Lecture Demonstrations: Getting to the Reflection Step
ROCHELLE RUFFER (Nazareth College)
MARK MAIER (Glendale Community College)

The Use of Service Learning Projects to Teach Introductory Consumer Economics
ROD D. RAEHSLER (Clarion University)

Enhancing Teachers' Classroom Effectiveness in Economics: GIGEL as an Alternative Model
JOSEPH C. ONUOHA (University of Nigeria)
NJIDEKA D. ENEOGU (University of Nigeria)

Using Competition as a Pedagogical Device in Large Principles of Economics Classes
PETER F. ORAZEM (Iowa State University)

Creating Connections: Exploring Economic Issues through Cyclic Concept Mapping
NJIDEKA D. ENEOGU (University of Nigeria)
JOSEPH C. ONUOHA (University of Nigeria)

A Futures Trading Project to Promote Active Learning in Agricultural Economics Courses
MAX ST. BROWN (Washington State University)
JARED WOOLSTENHULME (Washington State University)
[Download Preview]

Market Making with i-clikers
ELISABETH OLTHETEN (University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign)
VIRGINIA GRACE FRANCE (University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign)

Learning by Doing: Getting Students to "Discover" Answers
RANGANATH MURTHY (Western New England University)

Using Newspaper Articles and Documentary Films for Applications in Principles of Economics Courses
ELIZABETH BREITBACH (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

The Labour Market
MARILYN COTTRELL (Brock University, Canada)

Rent-A-Car: Teaching Managerial Economics with a Team-Based Interactive Case Study
DMITRIY CHULKOV (Indiana University-Kokomo)
DMITRI NIZOVTSEV (Washburn University)

What Works in Principles of Macro Classes: Enrollment 700 or Enrollment 30
MARTHA L. OLNEY (University of California-Berkeley)

Learning about the Economic Impact of a Sports Arena
JOHN F.R. HARTER (Eastern Kentucky University)

Cheat Sheet: Is It Worth It? The Effectiveness of the Quality of Cheat Sheet Used in Undergraduate Econometrics Courses
LEILA FARIVAR (Ohio State University)

Power-Up Smartphones to Access Knowledge and Electrify Class Participation
HOWARD H. COCHRAN, JR. (Belmont University)
MARIETA VELIKOVA (Belmont University)

Using Creative Video Clips Projects as Active Learning, Strategies in Economics Courses
JENNJOU CHEN (National Chengchi University)
TSUI-FANG LIN (National Taipei University)

Revise and Resubmit: Using Exams as Teaching Tools
KATHRYN BIRKELAND (University of South Dakota)

Teaching Intermediate Microeconomics in "The Inside-Out Classroom"
JAMES BRUEHLER (Eastern Illinois University)
LINDA S. GHENT (Eastern Illinois University)
ALAN GRANT (Baker University)

Employing Regional Survey Data in Teaching Students on the Price Index Calculation and Cost of Living Concept
MAUREEN DUNNE (Framingham State University)
DONALD MACRITCHIE (Framingham State University)
MARTHA MEANEY (Framingham State University)
FAHLINO SJUIB (Framingham State University)

Using Extra Credit in a Student Game Theory Simulation
JAMIE VOLZ (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
[Download Preview]

Jan 05, 2013 2:30 pm, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Ford B
National Association of Economic Educators
Advanced Placement Economics: Is This Any Way to Teach Economics to High School Students? (A2) (Panel Discussion)
Panel Moderator: JOHN SWINTON (Georgia College)

JAMES D. GWARTNEY (Florida State University)
KRISTIN KLOPFENSTEIN (University of Northern Colorado)
BENJAMIN SCAFIDI (Georgia College)
DEIRDRE N. MCCLOSKEY (University of Illinois-Chicago)

Jan 06, 2013 8:00 am, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Manchester F
American Economic Association
Research in Economic Education (A2)
Presiding: KIMMARIE MCGOLDRICK (University of Richmond)

Gender and Undergraduate Major Trends: 1990-2011
TISHA L.N. EMERSON (Baylor University)
KIMMARIE MCGOLDRICK (University of Richmond)
JOHN J. SIEGFRIED (Vanderbilt University)

High School Economics as Preparation for Principles of Microeconomics Courses
LINDA CARTER (Baylor University)
TISHA L.N. EMERSON (Baylor University)
GAIL HOYT (University of Kentucky)

Do algebra and geometry provide the same value in preparing high school students for economics?
BRENT EVANS (Mississippi State University)
[Download Preview]

A Survey of Principles Instructors: Why Lecture Prevails
WILLIAM L. GOFFE (Pennsylvania State University)
DAVID KAUPER (unknown)
[Download Preview]

PAUL W. GRIMES (Pittsburg State University)
JANE LOPUS (California State University-East Bay)
CYNTHIA HARTER (Eastern Kentucky University)
SCOTT SIMKINS (North Carolina A&T State University)

Jan 06, 2013 1:00 pm, Manchester Grand Hyatt, Randle B
American Economic Association
The Effects of Online Economics Courses on Student Learning (I2)
Presiding: NEAL OLITSKY (University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth)

Student Outcomes in Principles: Online vs. Face-to-Face Delivery
KATHRYN BIRKELAND (University of South Dakota)
MANDIE WEINANDT (University of South Dakota)
DAVID L. CARR (University of South Dakota)

The Effectiveness of Interactive Online Exercises across Delivery Format
WILLIAM T. ALPERT (University of Connecticut)
OSKAR R. HARMON (University of Connecticut)
JAMES LAMBRINOS (Union Graduate College)

The Effect of Blended Courses on Student Learning: Evidence From Introductory Economics Courses
NEAL H. OLITSKY (University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth)
SARAH B. COSGROVE (University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth)
[Download Preview]

Student Performance and Perception of Online Homework Systems: Upper-Level Economics Class versus Principles of Economics Students
ROBERT L. PENNINGTON (University of Central Florida)
BARBARA MOORE (University of Central Florida)

NEAL H. OLITSKY (University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth)
KATHRYN BIRKELAND (University of South Dakota)
OSKAR R. HARMON (University of Connecticut)
ROBERT L. PENNINGTON (University of Central Florida)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

I should not have to worry that a disgruntled student will kill me, but sometimes I do...

Caution: School Crossing
I submitted final grades on Monday. About four hours later (my current record is ten minutes), the emails began. Some of the requests are legitimate; e.g., I hit the wrong key when entering grades in the online system so someone got a D+ who should have had a C+ (I'm sure that over the years, I've made similar errors in the other direction but funny how I never hear from those students!). Some of the requests are benign; e.g., students miscalculate what their final weighted average is so they think they have a higher grade than they received. Those are just time-consuming because I have to look up their actual score, and also use the spreadsheet I posted online for them to use to verify that they just made a mistake somewhere, but once I respond, I typically don't hear from them again.

And then there are the real whiners who do not understand why they received the grade they did and have a sob story about why they 'need' a higher grade. These are the emails that stress me out, that prevent me from being able to relax and enjoy being done with the semester. A part of me wants to just ignore them but these are still my students, and my sense of responsibility as their teacher requires me to respond. But I know that my response, explaining how I arrived at their final grade, is not going to be the end of it. As soon as I hit 'send', I'm already dreading the inevitable reply. With the data class, the problem is almost always with students who do not complete the team evaluations. Because the evaluations are so critical for determining the team part of final grades, I tell the students that there are serious consequences if they do not complete the evaluations: they will not receive credit for the team assignments in their own grade. That means that instead of their individual quizzes being worth 10% of their grade, they are worth 28% (and the individual scores are always significantly worse than the team quizzes). This usually is enough to drop a student's final grade by at least a plus/minus, sometimes more. I know this is harsh but I also give the students plenty of time to get them done (they are submitted online) and many, many reminders, so there really is no excuse for not doing them. And yet, of course, there are always a few students who miss the deadline. I'm lenient up to a point - if a student emails me after the deadline, I still let them email their evaluations to me and as long as I get them before I'm done compiling grades, they still get credit for them. But there's always one or two who don't even think about it until they see their final grade, and those are the emails I dread.

My fiance pointed out that I go through this every semester, that there's always about a week after grades are submitted where I am all stressed out dealing with these emails. But this time seems worse - I just can't seem to shake the stress - and I've been trying to figure out why. Some of it is guilt and second-guessing myself: maybe I AM being too harsh or maybe I did not do enough to make sure the students understood what the consequences would be. I can usually convince myself that I am not the problem but it nags at me. Some of the stress is fatigue and burnout - the students are different but the problems are not and it's frustrating to deal with the exact same issues over and over again, every semester. This is one reason academics need sabbaticals and I'm very much looking forward to mine next year. But this year, there is something else mixed in with my stress: fear. I don't want to sound paranoid or extreme but there is a part of me that honestly worries that one of these students will show up at the department with a gun. The common thread among the emails that stress me out the most is students who are not taking full responsibility for their own actions - THEY did not complete the assignment but it is MY fault they have a bad grade because I am too harsh, unfair, don't understand their situation, etc. Rationally, I know that these students are simply young and immature, not mentally unhinged, but people in my department (and others on campus) have experienced threats from students who similarly believe others are to blame for whatever is happening to them. And of course, Sandy Hook and all of the discussion about guns is a contributor to my state of mind these days.

I'm still dealing with a couple of these students but they are tapering off. Being surrounded by family, and not checking my email too often, is also helping, so I'm hoping the stress will soon completely recede. But I'm curious how others handle this time of year. Do you respond to student emails about grades? Am I the only one who has these extreme worries?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Link round-up

Here are a few links if you want to procrastinate from grading, or get inspired for next semester...

2012 Christmas Price Index: The Cost of Christmas is up 4.8% this year. Each year, PNC makes the website a little more complicated. This year, you have to go around the world to find each item. If you have a slow internet connection, I think it would be kind of frustrating (each scene seems to take a while to load, even with a decent connection) but if you just want the punchline, click on 2012 Gift Price Index in the menu along the bottom.

Deck the Halls with Macro Follies: The latest video from EconStories (the guys who brought us Hayek vs. Keynes) has Keynes and other macro forefathers explaining their theories to the tune of Christmas carols.

How Economics Saved Christmas: This 2010 parody of 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' is a great way to introduce externalities (hat tip to Economist Educators!).

Tons of Quick Tips for Flipping Your Class: The 'flipped classroom' (i.e., having student acquire content outside of class so that class time can be used for interaction and applications) seems to be a big buzzword these days. Whether you've been flipping your class for years, or just beginning to think about it, the Peer Instruction blog has lots of great advice.

EdTech resources on Pinterest: I'm not a 'pinner' but this board (via Texas Wesleyan CETL) appears to have some great resources for edtech geeks.

And on a side note: If anyone is planning to attend the Western Economic Association conference in Seattle next summer (or is in the Seattle area already) and would be interested in being part of a panel on making classes more interactive, please email me!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Teaching portfolio

Well, I managed to go the entire five weeks of the Blendkit course (and then some) without actually blogging about it (or about anything else for that matter). For awhile I was mired in mid-semester grading (I thought I was being so smart the way I spread out exams and papers but instead, as soon as I finished one stack, there was another one coming in), and then, well, life happened. I'll try to catch up with the blended stuff eventually...

One of the things that has been distracting me is putting together my 'teaching portfolio'. My chair would like to nominate me for a teaching award, which is very cool, but I need to put together a teaching portfolio that he can submit with his nomination. Although I have a statement about my teaching that I wrote for my tenure and promotion reviews, this portfolio needs to be much more extensive. Specifically, the guidelines for the award say it should include "such items as: recommendation letter(s), summaries of student evaluations and evidence of awards, content expertise, instructional design and/or delivery, mentoring, student accomplishments, and commitment to improving pedagogical practice." Unfortunately, I don't think I can tell the committee to just read my blog so I've been trying to organize and succinctly explain all the various things I do in my classes. I found a couple of good resources about what should be in a teaching portfolio and that has helped a lot with the organization part; I'm still working on 'succinctly explain' part...

One of the unexpected benefits of doing this has been that I can see, in one place, all the things I've accomplished with my teaching. It's only been a couple of years since I went up for promotion to full professor but my teaching portfolio contains a lot of information that wasn't really explicit in my RTP files. And while I do use this blog as a way to chronicle the various things I try in the classroom, going through and systematically listing those things has been kind of neat. As we slog through the daily ups and downs of classes, it's too easy to get lost in the weeds; it's good to step back and look at the overall picture and realize how much we've actually accomplished. I highly recommend it... 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Happy Friday!

Life has gotten the better of me the last few weeks but I hope to have some new posts up soon. In the meantime, this popped up in my Facebook feed and I just had to share:

And remember, no matter how you feel about the election results, the one thing we can all be happy about is that the campaign is over!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Blended learning

Since the end of last spring, I've been kicking around the idea of listing my writing class as a 'hybrid' class - i.e., a class that meets partially online. There are already several weeks in the course where I 'cancel' one of the class meetings because students are working on drafts and reviews and there isn't really anything for us to talk about as a group. So instead of having class, I tell students they can come meet with me individually to discuss their writing. There are also some class days where I feel like we don't really need to be meeting, that it would be just as easy to accomplish what we are doing online. So it wouldn't be that big a stretch to formally move to a hybrid structure where we meet face-to-face once a week and the other class 'meeting' is online.

My department is also in the process of developing policies for handling the development of online (including hybrid) classes. We had some discussion last year when a colleague requested to teach Intermediate Micro online over the summer. Because it is a core required course, and because the material seems more difficult for students to fully understand if they do it online, the department decided not to allow that conversion*. On the other hand, we did allow a Comparative Systems course to be converted. And as more faculty have expressed interest in moving courses online, my chair has asked the Undergraduate Committee (which I chair) to come up with some policies to determine which classes can, and can't, be moved online, and to set some criteria and guidelines so we can make sure the online classes are as good as they can be.

One of the options for 'quality control' is to require faculty to go through some kind of training. Our ITS department has a formal training program for faculty who develop online courses for the summer but at this point, there isn't anything for those who just decide they want to convert a class during the regular year. But with fortuitous timing, our Center for Teaching and Learning recently sent out information about a free, open, online course on blended learning, Blendkit2012. The course starts Monday (Sept 24) and runs for six weeks. As stated on the website:
The goal of the BlendKit Course is to provide assistance in designing and developing your blended learning course via a consideration of key issues related to blended learning and practical step-by-step guidance in helping you produce actual materials for your blended course (i.e., from design documents through creating content pages to peer review feedback at your own institution).
Since I'm thinking about converting my class anyway, and I'm curious if this is something we could ask our faculty to complete if they want to start moving classes online, I've signed up for the course. It seems very flexible - I'm not entirely sure how much time I'll have but it looks like I can engage as much or as little as I want. I figure that if nothing else, the schedule and 'assignments' will help me focus. So over the next several weeks, my blog posts are likely to revolve around the course readings and discussions. If anyone else is interested in joining, check out the site at http://bit.ly/blendkit2012.

* Intermediate Micro, more than other courses, has so many graphs and models that student find confusing that it already is one of the tougher courses for students. I'm not saying it can't be done in a way that would be just as good as face-to-face but a) summer courses are already accelerated and b) our students, especially the ones taking summer courses, are not the most self-motivated students in the world so given the course is already challenging, and students need to understand the material so they can succeed in other courses, we didn't want to add the additional challenge of having them take it online.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Introducing high school students to economics

One of my service assignments this year is marketing the scholarships that my department offers. In particular, we have one scholarship that is potentially quite large (could more than cover tuition and fees) that the original donor wanted us to use specifically to attract good students into the major. But for the last few years, we have had hardly any applicants, and almost none from incoming freshmen. So my department agreed to devote some funds to have someone work on outreach to high schools. I volunteered, since it seemed like a good complement to my other interests and would give me an opportunity to connect with some high school economics teachers. Over the summer, I put together some materials about the scholarship and about economics in general, and started emailing people. So far, I've lined up a few visits to econ classes and also some AVID classes (for those who aren't familiar with it, AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination and is a college readiness program).

So now I have to figure out what I'm going to say. I'll generally have 30 or 50 minutes, and I'll be talking to seniors who either have had no exposure to economics specifically, or have been in an econ class for only a few weeks. I want to give them an idea of 'what you can do with an economics major' but I expect that I will first need to explain to them exactly what economics is. I'd prefer to show them by having them do some sort of activity, but it would have to be relatively short, since I'd want to keep at least ten or fifteen minutes for talking about what they can expect to study as econ majors and what kind of jobs econ majors can end up in, as well as answering questions. One really easy thing to do would be an allocation exercise (e.g., "Who wants some candy? I don't have enough for everyone so how should we allocate it?"), but I'm not sure how clear the connection will be if I then start talking about the types of jobs economics majors go into. For that, it seems like it would be better to do something that gets more directly at trade offs, incentives, costs and benefits. If anyone has suggestions, please let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

You know you're an economist when...

... you are at Sea World and when you see all the strollers 'parked' outside Shamu Stadium, your first thought is, "This would make a great example of product differentiation!"

Tutor2U has some more pictures that could be used to show economic concepts, with this description of a cool assignment for your students:
My first assignment for my AS Economics group this week is to get their smartphones or tablets out and in pairs find some time to explore our locality to shoot examples of economics around them. They then select six of their favourite images and turn them into a Prezi or a PowerPoint and explain to the group why their images raise interesting economics questions.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

TBL: Summing up

[See previous posts for TBL basics, readiness assessments, team applications, peer evaluations/team grades, and student responses]

For those who have been following along with this series, I hope it's clear by now that TBL is pretty dramatically different from traditional chalk-and-talk. After teaching this way, it's actually really hard for me to stand up and 'lecture' in any class for more than about ten minutes. For those who are curious to find out more, the absolute best place to start is the Team-Based Learning website. The book by Michaelson, et al, is also a good starting place. To wrap up, I thought I'd address some of the questions that I think folks might have if you're considering adopting TBL...

How do you get student buy-in?
As I mentioned in my last post, I think it's crucial for students to understand why we are using TBL. One thing I do on the first day is ask the two questions in this article in The National Teaching and Learning Forum, "First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom," by Gary Smith:
Thinking of what you want to get out of your college education and this course, which of the following is most important to you?
A. Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts)
B. Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations
C. Developing lifelong learning skills.
Of these three goals, which do you think you can most easily achieve outside of class with your own reading and studying, and which is best achieved in class, working with your classmates and the Professor?

Typically, answers to the first question include a couple of students who answer A and the rest split between B and C. We talk a little about how A, acquiring information, is a necessary step before you can get to B and C, but when I emphasize that the question asks what they want to get out of their college education, most students agree that knowledge alone isn't that useful if you don't know what to do with it. In response to the second question, students immediately see that acquiring information is easiest on your own and from there, explaining why I use team-based learning is pretty straightforward.

Would this work in really large classes with fixed seats?
My own classes have been maxed out at 75 students and I taught one section, my first semester using TBL, in a classroom with fixed seats. Since then, I've requested rooms with movable seats because I think it's a lot easier. I'd certainly suggest starting with smaller classes if possible but with movable seats, I really think TBL could work for a class of pretty much any size. Of course, hopefully if you have hundreds of students, then you also have at least a few TAs who can help with walking around and keeping the groups under control. With fixed seats, you need to be super-clear about where each team is seated; I think it can work OK if each team is together in two rows so the students in the front row can turn around and talk with the students behind them. It isn't ideal but it's do-able. The TBL website has some videos that show TBL in action in some really large classrooms.

How do you create good teams?
Some TBLers create the teams in class but I always create the teams myself (just seems easier to me). On the first day, students fill out an information sheet and I collect some information from them that I then use in creating the teams. The main things I'm concerned about are having a mix of gender, 'ability' and laptop availability on each team (for the data class, each team needs laptop for a few classes so I try to have at least two people per team who say they are 'willing and able to bring a laptop to class'). I measure 'ability' by asking the students if they took the lower-division stats course more than once and if they have ever tutored for economics or statistics. I also check that the non-native English speakers are distributed somewhat equally across teams, and that there were no teams that might have cliques (e.g., members of the same fraternity or sports team). I now use a spreadsheet called the Group Rumbler, created by a guy at Harvard and available for free; that has made my life a lot easier and I'd highly recommend it for anyone who wants to create groups based on specific characteristics. Although I do think my approach has helped ensure that all the teams are roughly 'equal', some TBLers will tell you that it doesn't (or shouldn't) matter all that much. Doing it totally randomly might mean that one team ends up with four or five slackers while another team ends up with four or five 4.0 students, but if you have well-designed applications, the TBL structure should mean that all students have equal incentive to contribute.

I'm not sure I'm ready to adopt TBL whole-hog but would like to adopt certain parts. How can I get my feet wet?
I think there are big advantages to adopting TBL as a whole-course approach but I also think it's difficult to do because you really need to step back and re-design the entire course. I think a good way to build up to that is to start with 4S applications. If your typical approach is to assign problem sets that students do as homework, think about converting those to 4S applications and having students work through them in teams during class. Of course, you may need to reduce lecturing time in order to make time for that, but you may find that you can condense your lecture and have students discover some of the same information on their own as they work through the applications. For upper-division courses, I also think establishing teams and having them do readiness assessments would be a good way to get students to review material from Principles and to do pre-class reading, even if you still spend a lot of time lecturing.

I hope this series has been useful to folks. If you have other questions or comments about TBL, feel free to leave them here or email me directly!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

First day jitters

Classes start tomorrow and I'm feeling oddly anxious. For some reason, I seem to be having a particularly hard time getting mentally into 'school mode' - I've been saying for the last week that it just doesn't feel like it's time to start classes yet. I think my problem is that we are starting a full week before Labor Day; the last few years, I think we started on Wednesday or Thursday so I had to be on campus for advising and such for a few days at the beginning of the week before starting classes and could get mentally prepared. Although I was on campus a few days last week, it just doesn't feel the same...

I'm always a little bit nervous for my first classes of the semester, though the nerves generally go away as soon as I start talking. I remember feeling like I was almost going to throw up before walking into the 500-seater the first time. It helps when I already know students in the class; last spring, about two-thirds of my writing class were students I'd had in the data class already and I think that was the most relaxed I've ever been in a first class meeting. Deep breaths and chocolate help too... I do wonder if this ever goes away. Maybe it's a good thing - as one friend put it, "You probably wouldn't feel nervous if you didn't care."

Whether you get first-day jitters or not, I hope everyone's fall term gets off to a great start!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TBL: Student reactions

[See previous posts for TBL basics, readiness assessments, team applications and peer evaluations/team grades]

At the end of every semester, I survey my students specifically about both PollEverywhere and TBL. The questions are largely adapted from a survey that SDSU's Instructional Technology Services asks all clicker-using faculty to give. I've summarized the responses from the last three semesters (click on the image to see full-size). Response was most positive (highest percentages agreeing or strongly agreeing with most of the statements) in Spring 2011, when I had two sections of 75 students each; the positive responses fall a little in the 2011-12 school year (not sure why) but over 80% still said TBL makes them more likely to attend class and to feel more involved in class, about two-thirds would choose a TBL section over another section of the same course that does not use TBL, and (most important to me) over three-quarters still said that they felt they gained a deeper understanding of the material with TBL compared to traditional lectures.

The open-ended comments had similar percentages of positive responses. A lot of students felt that TBL 'made class more fun' and 'was totally different from any class I've taken, in a good way'. Here are two comments that capture attitudes that seem pretty typical for most students:
"Team based learning was very helpful, it let you discuss things with your group and clear things up. I know many people including myself tend to hold back with questions when confused because of 1) not being able to form a good solid question because of the confusion or 2) being embarrassed to ask a question that may make you look stupid. With team based learning that kind of confusion was easily cleared up."
"At first i was very apprehensive about the team group. When i learned that the whole class is developed around teams i said to myself "oh here we go, others are gonna band wagon on few people's hard work" as it always turns out that way with teams. However the way Professor Imazeki set up the teams really worked out well. Everyone had good input. At some point i started to miss a few classes due to personal reasons and my team members motivated me, check up on me and brought me back to class. I enjoyed working on my own at home and comparing my findings with my teammates in order to reach collaborative answers in class. I have never had such great experience with team work.  I would love to have other classes designed around this kind of team work versus team project where the pressure usually falls on one or two people who care."
Not all students love TBL
In every class, there have been a few comments along the lines of "It would have helped if the professor had explained things a little more", and a handful of students have been downright hostile. In at least two of those cases, I think the students were more frustrated by the material, rather than the method (that is, they hated that there wasn't always a 'right answer' to everything). A few students commented on what they saw as free-riding behavior, noting that not all group members always participate equally but they get credit for the team RAs and applications. To me, those comments indicate the students don't entirely understand how the peer evaluations impact the team part of the grade - if a student really isn't contributing, then the rest of the team should give them a lower evaluation score and they don't get the same credit for team efforts. As I write this, it dawns on me that maybe this fall, I should use those comments as part of my explanation of how the evaluations will work...

I tend to fixate on the few students who give negative feedback but overall, once students understand why I am using TBL, and once they see that this is not like other group work they have experienced in the past, the vast majority enjoy it, if not prefer it to typical lectures. I do think it's important to lay the groundwork on the first day, to explain to students exactly why we will be using TBL and why I believe it is a better learning experience for them than listening to me lecture. In my next post, I'll wrap up this series with some discussion of how to get that buy-in from students and also some thoughts on basic team logistics.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Finds

I'll take a short break from my TBL series to share a couple of resources that you may find helpful if, like me, you're tweaking your fall classes and looking for some new material...
  • Economics memes: I think anyone who is on Facebook, or receives email for that matter, has seen some version of various internet memes, which wikipedia defines as any idea that is propagated through the internet: "The idea may take the form of a hyperlink, video, picture, website, hashtag, or just a word or phrase... The meme may spread from person to person via social networks, blogs, direct email, news sources or other web-based services." The Economics memes site provides a collection of econ-related memes, as well as some information about how to use memes in your class. [Note: the Most Interesting Man in the World picture is actually from the Cengage Facebook page, and Jodi Beggs has a bunch of other variations on the Most Interesting Man meme].
  • Div.E.Q.: Diversifying Economic Quality: A Wiki for Instructors and Departments provides some great teaching resources. As stated on the site:
  • "The purpose of this wiki is to promote best teaching practices in economics, particularly practices that encourage women, students of color, and members of other underrepresented groups to continue their study of economics. Here, economics faculty can both disseminate and discover prescriptions for improving our teaching and the inclusiveness of our discipline."
  • The Peer Instruction Network has lots of information if you want to add some peer instruction elements to your courses. The blog has some good posts if you're new to peer instruction, including this post that answers the basic question, "What is peer instruction?". 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TBL: Peer evaluations and team grades

[See previous posts for TBL basics, readiness assessments and team applications]

In this post, I'll go over how my students' course grades are calculated and the role of peer evaluations. I think the peer evaluations are probably the part of TBL that students are most worried about at the beginning of the semester, and the aspect that I get asked about the most by faculty. I want to say right off the bat that in the four semesters (eight classes) I've used TBL, I have not seen a single evaluation that appeared to be a student or team trying to 'game the system' (i.e., 'rewarding' a friend or 'punishing' someone unfairly). I've seen a few where students seemed to be not putting in much effort or thought but it has never caused someone's grade to be different than I thought made sense.

Grade weights
Many TBLers have the students themselves determine how much weight will be given to team and individual activities. The way Larry Michaelson and others do it is to have the teams discuss and then send a representative to meet with other team representatives in a fishbowl-type discussion. While I can see how that could be great for getting student buy-in and for building team cohesion, I didn't feel comfortable doing it with my classes so I simply set the weights myself. For the data class, 25% of the final grade is based on team activities (that's 18% from the team RAs and 7% from the team applications). The other 75% of the grade comes from the individual RAs (10%), individual participation based on PollEverywhere responses and pre-class homeworks (10%), two in-class exams (20%), and two writing projects (15% and 20%). Thus, 55% of a student's grade is based on summative assessments (the exams and writing projects), which I think is enough to differentiate the students but not so much that they can ignore/slack off on all the other stuff. I am constantly debating with myself whether I should give more or less weight to things like participation but this mix seems to be working.

Peer evaluations
There are different ways to do the peer evaluations but what I do is have students give a numeric score to each member of their team (not including themselves) and those scores must add up to 100. They must also provide a qualitative explanation of those scores, and those comments are passed on (anonymously) to each student. On the evaluation form, which students complete on Blackboard, the instructions say (borrowed from materials on the TBL website):
"Evaluate the contributions of each person in your group except yourself, by distributing 100 points among them (that is, when you are done, the total points assigned to everyone should sum up to 100). You must provide comments for each person. These comments -- but not who provided them -- will be passed onto your teammates. Your score should reflect your judgment of such things as Preparation (did they come to class prepared?), Contribution (did they contribute productively to group discussion and work?), Respect for others (did they encourage everyone to contribute and listen respectfully to different opinions?), and Flexibility (were they flexible when disagreements occurred?). It is important that you differentiate between people who truly worked hard for the good of the group and those you perceived not to be working as hard on group tasks (NOTE: If you give everyone pretty much the same score when it is not truly deserved, you will be hurting those who did the most and helping those who did the least)."
These evaluations are done twice a semester: the mid-semester evaluations provide students with feedback so they can adjust behavior if necessary, and then the end-of-semester evaluations are the ones that actually 'count'. In order to make sure that students give both numeric and qualitative feedback, I give them individual points for completion.

Incorporating evaluations into grades
Most faculty using TBL tend to use the evaluation scores either as a multiplier applied to the team part of the grade, or as a separate component of the course grade (see the TBL website for a discussion of both). I use the former so I take the peer evaluation scores and convert those to a weight. Since I mostly have teams of 6, the average score for each student is 20 (e.g., if someone wanted to give everyone on the team the same score, that score would be 20) so I start by taking an individual's average score as a percentage of 20. Thus, really good team members will have weights of greater than 1. I played with different ways of calculating the weight (e.g., an individual's average score as a percentage of the lowest score on the team) but finally decided just the score over 20 and I cap the weights at 1.25. So let's say a team has perfect scores on their team RAs and team applications (a situation that has not actually happened in any of my classes), and one member of the team is the clear leader and has high scores from everyone, then that person could actually get 125% for the team portion of their grade. If that person were also to have perfect scores on all their individual assignments, they could actually have more than 100% of the points possible for the semester (again, this has never actually happened).

Do students take it seriously and think it's a fair process?
As mentioned above, I have not yet seen any evidence that students try to game the system. I also have not had any complaints from students about their evaluations being unfair. I think the qualitative feedback helps with this tremendously. Even if one student were to unfairly criticize a teammate, it would be clear from the other team members' comments that the student was out of line. At the same time, when a particular student is not pulling their weight, that generally shows up in comments from multiple teammates, not just one. One thing I find fascinating is how much students will ding a teammate for being absent; comments like "he has missed a lot of classes" or "she doesn't tell us when she's going to miss class" almost always accompany low scores. And those comments matter: I have seen quite a few students start coming to class more regularly after they get their mid-semester evaluations. I've actually considered not having the PollEverywhere responses count for points (and giving more weight to the team portion of the grade instead), since those PE points are often seen by the students as just points for attendance (which, really, they kind of are).

I think the instructions, asking students to think about things like respect for others and flexibility, are also important for getting good qualitative feedback. I have been pleasantly surprised how often I will see comments like, "John always makes sure to get everyone's opinion before we finalize our answer" or "Jane always has a strong opinion, and it's usually right, but she's also good about listening to other people's explanations and admitting when she's wrong" or "I wish Jim would contribute more; when he does, he usually has good points but he's kind of quiet." In general, the majority of comments, both good and bad, are respectful and actually constructive.

In my next post, I'll share some of the feedback I've collected from students about their experience with TBL...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

TBL: Team applications

[For an overview of TBL, see this post]

In my last post, I described the Readiness Assessment process; by the time students are done with the team RA, they are ready for the fun stuff: the team applications. For the next several class meetings, class time is almost entirely devoted to teams working on problems that require they think through and discuss the kind of data issues that empirical researchers routinely address. During the all-class discussion that follows the team discussions, my contribution tends to be limited to directing the discussion. I may spend a few minutes at the end of class tying together concepts but that's as close as I get to lecturing. TBL 'guidelines' say that good applications should satisfy the 4 S's: Significant problem, Same problem, Specific choice, Simultaneous report.

Significant problem
This seems sort of obvious - of course you want students to be working on problems that are 'significant', which I take to mean both relevant and complex enough to require application and integration of course concepts. But actually coming up with 'significant' problems isn't always easy. It would be great if I could use some canned examples from textbook supplements but an awful lot of those are neither relevant nor complex, particularly because I want students to think and not plug-and-chug. For most economics course, I think current events are probably the best source for applications. I use a number of applications based on headlines and real-world examples, many involving issues that are not actually resolved among experts (more about this in a minute). For example, for discussion of issues with defining vague concepts, students are asked to decide what variable to use in a comparison of whether Americans are 'better off' today than they were four years ago.

Same problem
I've had groups in other classes do 'jig-saw' problems, where each group (or member of the group) works on a slightly different problem and then the parts have to be put together to form an overall conclusion/product. While I think this can work for some purposes, it is better for discussion to have everyone working on the same problem. Both within and between groups, discussion is more lively as students compare answers and then must defend and explain their approach to the problem.

Specific choice
From my perspective, this is the key factor for ensuring productive team discussions. Teams must agree on ONE choice and, as a team, defend that choice to other teams. I think teachers usually tend to prefer open-ended questions for getting students to think critically. Yet for most of my applications, the way I force students to make a 'specific choice' is by giving them multiple choice options. However, a large number of the applications have more than one answer choice that could be 'right', depending on what assumptions you make. For example, one of my favorite applications is about the CPS definition of 'income'. Before class, students go to the CPS website and get data on median household income and have to read about how the CPS defines income. The team application reiterates that income does not include noncash benefits, including in-kind transfers like food stamps and employer-provided work benefits, and asks:
The exclusions in the CPS definition mean that the measured income gap between rich and poor (assume ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ measured by 10th and 90th percentile of the population), when compared to the "true" income gap, is likely to be:
A. understated
B. overstated
C. unaffected
Almost all students quickly recognize that the exclusion of noncash benefits means that the measured income of poor people is likely less than their 'true' income. Some students see that richer people's incomes are also understated because work benefits are not included either; someone always also points out that income is measured pre-tax and rich people pay more in taxes. The point is that through the team discussion, students have to identify not only how different people's incomes are affected but they have to think about how big those effects are likely to be. And since none of them have any real idea what those magnitudes are, they have to make assumptions, and those assumptions will ultimately drive which answer they choose.

On the worksheets that the teams complete, I ask them specifically to identify any assumptions that they are making but this is always the most difficult part for them - it really takes some work to get them to admit that they are 'assuming' information. But it helps that the answers are always split, both within teams and then among teams, which means there is someone else in the room who is making very different assumptions and coming to a different conclusion.

The biggest challenge for me with these applications is that certain students really hate that there is no one 'right' answer. I've learned that I really have to emphasize to students the 'if-then' nature of the answers; that is, "IF you assume X, THEN you would want to choose answer A; but IF you assume Y, THEN you would want to choose answer B." [I should add that I also point out to them that, usually, both X and Y are assumptions people might have for different reasons, like political beliefs, which is why I'm constantly telling them all to be aware of their own biases...]. I also repeatedly tell students that although some questions may have more than one 'right' answer, there is still a 'right' way to think about the questions, i.e., to identify what assumptions will lead to different answers. I try to point out to them that this is the way the 'real world' works - for example, when they hear politicians saying things that seem to be contradictory, it doesn't necessarily mean that one side is "wrong" but that they are making different assumptions. Of course, then you should next ask whether those assumptions are valid!

Simultaneous report
After the teams have some time to discuss the application and make their choice, every team reports their choice at the same time. This means teams can't change their answer once they see what everyone else chose. The way I do the simultaneous report is to use whiteboards - each team writes the letter corresponding to their choice on their boards and holds it up at the same time. I used clickers the first time I taught the class, which made it easy to see how many teams had chosen each answer but I couldn't see which team had chosen what. I think that's more important because teams need to be accountable for their answer - when I ask Team 6 to explain their choice, they can't just say they chose whatever the most popular answer was. Similarly, I can see immediately if one or two teams choose something different than all the others; that's usually where I start the all-class discussion.

Some logistical issues
    Individual responses: I do have students register their choices individually before the team discussion (using PollEverywhere). I may or may not show them the distribution of those answers. The important thing is that they have to give the question at least a little bit of independent thought, and they have to register their own choice, before discussing the problem with their team. This not only gives the teams an easy starting point (they go around and ask everyone what answer they chose) but I think that once people have registered an answer, even if they don't have a ton of confidence in it, they will either try to defend it or want a coherent explanation of why the team should go with a different choice.
    Team worksheets: For each application, there is a team worksheet where the teams must write down which answer choice they selected and provide a justification for that choice, including identifying any assumptions they are making. I do grade these worksheets, though on mostly a "plus, check, minus" kind of scale. One of the issues I'm still trying to figure out is how to make those worksheets more productive for everyone. What typically happens is that one person (either the 'smartest' person or the one with the best writing) ends up always writing up the explanation and everyone else just sort of sits around while he or she does that. I'm trying to decide if I want to 'force' teams to rotate this responsibility, since I think whoever does the writing probably learns the most.
    Timing: Another thing I am constantly re-evaluating is how much time to give teams for the applications. This has largely been trial and error: the first few times I taught the class, I gave the teams a set amount of time (usually 5 to 7 minutes) and then would monitor the teams and give them additional time as necessary. But I got a lot of complaints from students that they needed more time. This past spring, I decided to make the time open-ended and gave each team a green piece of paper, folded in half. When they were done, they were supposed to put the green 'tent' on someone's desk so I could see they were done. When about half the teams were done, I'd tell everyone else they have 1 minute to finish up. That seemed to work well and although the teams took a lot longer, we never ran out of time either (I'm not entirely sure how that happened but I think it may be that because they had more time to discuss without feeling rushed, I had to do less explaining afterwards).
   All-class discussion: When there are one or two teams that select a different answer than everyone else, I will ask someone from that team to explain their answer, and then ask someone from a different team to explain why they made a different choice. I try to learn all the students' names so I can call on individuals - if I don't, there is a tendency for the same people to always answer for a given team. I'm still playing around with this; sometimes I will call on teams randomly by using a deck of cards, or a random student-picker app. If there is a lot of agreement about one particular answer, I will sometimes extend discussion by asking students to identify why someone might choose one of the other options, or I ask someone who chose a different option with PollEverywhere originally to explain their thinking.

In my next post, I'll discuss the final step of the TBL process, team evaluations.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TBL: Readiness Assessments

[Today (July 31) is the last day to complete the blog reader survey if you want to be included in the drawing for a free copy of The Intl Handlbook on Teaching and Learning Economics. Thank you!]

My last post outlined the basic structure of TBL. That structure can be summarized as a) students acquire basic concepts on their own, b) students are assessed to make sure they actually have acquired those concepts, c) class time is spent on application exercises that require they use that basic knowledge in more complex ways, and d) students assess their teammates and those evaluations are used to 'weight' the team portion of each individual's final grade. In this post, I'll talk about the first stages of the cycle, where students acquire basic concepts and are assessed on those.

Although there has been a lot of discussion recently about 'flipped classrooms', I'm wary of pushing too much content acquisition outside the classroom in classes like micro principles; I do think it can be done but honestly, it exhausts me just to think about how much work it would be (both to set it up and to get students on board). But I was willing to do it with the data class because all of the content that students need to "acquire" on their own is really stuff that they should already know from the prerequisite classes. I do not make exceptions to the prereq requirements and I make it super-clear to them on Day One that since they have already passed lower-division stats and MIS (info systems), I expect they already have acquired the basic statistical and Excel tools we will be using throughout the semester. I tell them that we will be spending minimal class time reviewing those tools so that class time can be spent on using them.

Assessment at the beginning of each unit
The data course is divided into four modules and at the beginning of each module (i.e., the first day of the unit), students come in and take what I call a Readiness Assessment (RA) [NOTE: In the TBL community, these are more often called 'RATs', short for Readiness Assurance Test, but I really didn't want to call them that, both because I try to avoid calling them 'tests' and because RAT just sounds kind of negative to me]. I provide a study guide with questions covering the necessary content and I tell students that if they can answer all those questions, they will be fine for the RA (I should note that many of those questions are also on a knowledge survey that students take the first week of the semester; that gives me and them some indication of how much review they will need to do). The RA questions are multiple choice and since the point is to make sure they have sufficient understanding of basic concepts, the questions are largely definitions and recall. For example, the third module is when we talk about correlation versus causation. In this class, we talk a lot about why two variables might be correlated without one causing the other, and what data we would need in order to actually identify real causation, but I don't spend any time on the mechanics of computing the correlation or regression coefficients; they should have already gotten that in their previous stats class. But obviously, they need to know what a correlation coefficient is and what a regression tells us, so  the study guide has questions like, "What does it mean for the correlation between two variables to be positive or negative?" and the RA has questions like:
The correlation between X and Y is -0.75. We can conclude:
A. when X increases in value, Y also increases
B. when X decreases in value, Y increases
C. when X decreases in value, Y also decreases
D. X causes Y
E. X does not cause Y
If the students can answer the study guide question about what it means for the correlation to be positive or negative, they should have no problem answering this RA question, but it does usually require that they go back and review their notes from (or re-learn) their intro stats class (there is no stats textbook for the class but I provide links on Blackboard to some online texts and other resources for review since the majority of students have not kept their stats books from previous classes). In a more traditional class, this really shouldn't be all that different from what most professors usually do, in terms of assigning readings from a textbook, but with TBL, students actually have to DO the reading, rather than having the professor repeat it all via lecture in class.

Team assessment ensures content knowledge
IF-AT formA key thing here is that the RA is NOT intended to test higher-level skills; it is to make sure students are ready to move on and start applying the concepts. So even if students don't do the review they should do, and do poorly when they take the RA on their own, the TBL process ensures that they will still be ready to move on because immediately after students finish the RA individually, they re-take the same assessment as a team. To do this most effectively, most TBLers use a special form, called an "IF-AT" form. IF-ATs are multiple-choice scratch-off forms (see picture) - they sort of look like scantrons but instead of bubbles, there's that gray scratch-off material, like on a lottery card. For each question, the teams decide on their answer and scratch off the corresponding letter; if they are correct, they will see a star. The cool part is that if they are wrong, they can try again and still receive partial credit. I give 3 points for one scratch, 2 points for two scratches and 1 point for three scratches; there are five answer options for every question and if they can't get it right in three tries, they get zero points. This process means that not only do students get instant feedback but if a team is wrong on their first attempt, they still have incentive to keep discussing the question so they can try again. The scratch-off form also creates a sort of 'game' atmosphere - it isn't unusual for teams to cheer when they see the star.

The way most teams do the team RA is they go around and everyone will say which answer they chose; if there is any disagreement, students then explain their choice and they try to convince others who might want to scratch off a different letter. Sometimes I'll hear weaker students say things like, "Well, I put A but I really was just guessing and have no idea," but even then, they will usually want someone else to explain why a different answer is right. I have never seen a team just give the IF-AT form to one person and have that person complete it without input from everyone else. So by the time the teams are done, students not only know the answers to all of the RA questions but they have discussed both the right and wrong answers, so they generally understand the concepts well enough to dive into the applications.

Student resistance to assessment process
It's probably not surprising that the individual RAs are generally the students' least-favorite aspects of TBL. In a future post, I will talk about the many things I do to get students to 'buy into' TBL but even when they 'get it', I still get lots of comments along the lines of "I don't like that we get tested before covering the material in class" or "I think Professor Imazeki needs to lecture more before the RAs". On the other hand, students tend to really like the team RAs. I'm still trying to figure out if there are ways to get student to 'feel better' about the RAs but I tend to think that this is just one of those things where I have to trust that I am doing the right thing, even if students don't see it.

In my next post, I'll explain how the team applications work...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Team-based learning: The basics

[If you haven't completed the blog reader survey yet, please take a few minutes to do so (before July 31 if you want to be included in the drawing for a free copy of The Intl Handlbook on Teaching and Learning Economics). Thank you!]

Although I know I've mentioned the fact that I use Team-Based Learning (TBL) in my data analysis class, I can't believe I haven't written a series of posts yet to really explain what I'm doing and how it's working. So here we go... Keep in mind that the class is called Collection and Use of Data in Economics (if anyone's interested, you can get the syllabus here); it is an upper-division required course for all econ majors and they must have already taken Principles (both 101 and 102), lower-division statistics, and an Information Systems course that covers Excel and databases.

For those who know nothing about TBL, the basic idea is that students spend the majority of class time working in permanent teams (i.e., they keep the same team for the whole semester) on exercises that emphasize application, evaluation and other higher-order skills. One thing that differentiates TBL from other problem- or group-based approaches is that it is a "whole course" pedagogy - to get the full benefits of TBL, you really need to design the entire course, from day one, according to a particular structure. I thought the easiest way to explain that structure is to share the explanation that I put in my syllabus:

[After typical intro stuff about requirements, texts, etc.:]
We will be using a learning strategy known as ‘team-based learning’ (TBL); the majority of the work in this class will be done in teams that will be established at the beginning of the semester.

How does TBL work? You will spend most of your time working in teams, applying what you’ve learned from outside readings (and your own review of statistics). The course is divided into several units where each unit lasts a few weeks and follows the same structure:
1. Students read the assigned material for the unit. This will generally be readings in the Greenlaw and Klass books. There will be reading guides provided that are a series of questions that you should be able to answer by the time you come to class.
2. At the beginning of each unit, students will take an “individual Readiness Assessment” (iRA) in class to be sure that they have sufficient knowledge to work problems from this unit. Questions will primarily be over definitions or will be simple applications of facts and definitions. These will be multiple-choice (you will need scantron forms) and will be graded.
3. Immediately following the iRA, students will answer the same questions as a team, with a “team Readiness Assessment” (tRA). This too will be graded. All team members receive the team score.
4. Disputes over missed questions on the tRA can be appealed to the instructor. The appeal must come from the team, it must be written, and it must come no later than the beginning of the next class (detailed instructions for appeals will be distributed later and are posted on Blackboard). All affected students on the team will have their scores changed.
5. The instructor will address common errors on the RA to the class as a whole.
6. Over the following classes, teams solve real-world problems and answer questions that economists must answer as they do their work. Team Applications generally pose a question and ask each team to make a decision. Your team will need to poll each member, listen to each member’s ideas and their explanation of why their idea is the best, and then reach a team consensus. At the end of your deliberation, all of the teams will simultaneously report decisions. Then we’ll discuss the question as a class. Any member of your team may be called upon to explain your team’s response and points may be awarded to the team based on these responses. Several of the Applications also have an individual component that must be completed prior to coming to class. These assignments will involve reading chapters in the Maier book, or articles by other economists, and answering some questions, and/or getting data and doing something with it. That information will then be used to have deeper discussions and make better decisions with your team. In general, you can expect to have something ‘due’ almost every class.
7. At the end of the semester, students complete a confidential evaluation of their teammates, based on their participation in team activities (Did they come to class regularly? Were they prepared for the day’s activity? Did they contribute productively to the team? Respect others’ ideas?). There is a copy of the Peer Evaluation form on Blackboard; note that you will have to distinguish between your teammates. The peer evaluations will be used to weight the Team portion of your grade.
[end of syllabus text]

In the next few posts, I will explain exactly what I do in more detail and some 'best practices', as well as student response. If you have specific questions about TBL, feel free to leave them here and I'll try to answer them as best I can in future posts.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Who are YOU? Survey request

At the beginning of every semester, I have my students fill out an information sheet where I gather some basic background, like their major, hometown, other econ courses, personal interests, etc. I feel like I can be more effective if I know something about who they all are. Here on the blog, I have sometimes struggled as I write posts because I don't really have a good idea of who is reading what I write. I mean, I have a general idea - I assume you all are somehow interested in economics and/or teaching (well, aside from my mom :-)) - but that's about all I really know. It finally dawned on me that I should just ask (duh!). So, if you are a regular reader, will you please complete this short survey? By 'short', I mean it should take you about five minutes. I figured summer would be a good time to do this but I know that even for those few minutes, there are opportunity costs and some of you may need an extra incentive, so everyone who responds by July 31 will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of the International Handbook on Teaching and Learning Economics. I'd really appreciate your feedback. Thank you, and thank you reading!

p.s. If you aren't familiar with Google Forms, they are super-cool! This is the first time I've used them but can see lots of ways I might use them for classes. I'll likely post about that soon...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

D-Boards vs. blogs vs. journals?

In the past, I have regularly used Discussion Boards (within the Blackboard LMS) to have students post reflections or questions related to assigned readings. But I've really only used the Discussion Board tool because there was no better alternative; I've never been a big fan of the interface. The threads just seem clunky and I don't think students actually read what other students post unless I specifically assign them to do so. So now that my university has updated to Blackboard 9, which has blogs, wikis and journals, I'm considering using one or more of these options instead.

While wikis are specifically for collaborative creation of a common product, blogs and journals allow students to write individual posts or comments. From what I can tell, the main difference between Blackboard's blogs and journals seems to be that journals are intended to be private; students write entries that are only visible to the instructor (although there is an option to make the entries visible to other students but without the ability to comment). With blogs, everything is public and you can create 'course blogs' (where anyone can post and comment), 'individual blogs' (where only the individual student can post but anyone can comment) and 'group blogs' (where only members of the group can post but anyone can comment).

In my Econ for Teachers class, I have had students write two types of discussion board responses that might be appropriate for blogs or journals. One involves a personal reflection in reaction to assigned readings. The prompts for these typically ask students to reflect on their own experience and relate that experience in some way to the readings or class discussion. For example, one of the prompts toward the beginning of the semester asks students how their economics courses have been taught (lecture, active learning, group work, etc.) and how that may have influenced their current understanding and opinion of economics as a field. The other type of discussion board response is student reflections on their experience with Junior Achievement. This is a required activity for the class, where the students go into elementary school classrooms and 'teach' the JA curriculum. They are supposed to write a reflection post after each visit, explaining the lesson they taught and what they learned from the experience.

For the readings reflections, blogs seems appropriate, since I would like students to read and comment on each others' posts. I just can't decide if it would be better to have one course blog where the prompt is the main post and students respond with comments, or for each student to have an individual blog where their posts contain their reflections. With the whole-course blog, I think students will be more likely to read what other students have written, since they will be part of the same screen as the original post; on the other hand, they may or may not respond to those comments (and if they do, it may or may not be obvious which comment they are responding to, since comments are not threaded). With individual blogs, other students could comment in direct response but I worry that we'll have the same issue as with discussion boards, i.e., students would have to specifically click on a separate link to read another student's post and they likely won't bother. The third option is to have one course blog and each student posts there (so each student generates a post on the same blog, rather than having their own blog) but I worry that will get overwhelming and cluttered (there are 40 students in the class). So I'm still thinking that through...

For the Junior Achievement reflections, a private journal would be fine, since I don't expect students to read and comment on each others' posts. But if I have them do individual blogs for the reading reflections anyway, then they could just post these JA reflections there as well so logistically, that might be easiest.

Five years ago, the very first time I taught the class, I had students create individual blogs on blogger.com but a) there were only 15 students in the class and b) because the blogs had RSS feeds, I could aggregate them and students could go to one central page that had the titles and first few lines of the individual posts, with links to the full posts. If I could do something similar in Blackboard, I would feel better about assigning individual blogs but I don't think there is a way to aggregate the individual blog posts so they are all visible in one list (from what I can tell, there is no RSS feed since the blogs are only visible within Blackboard).

Has anyone had experience with using blogs in Blackboard? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Last year, I wrote a lot about my experience with SWoRD, a site that facilitates peer review of writing (including generating grades from peer review scores). Although I think there are a lot of neat things about SWoRD, there were also a lot of problems and I decided not to use it for the writing class this past spring. Instead, I used Turnitin's PeerMark tool, which is integrated into my school's Blackboard system.

Compared to last year, I made a few adjustments to the writing and reviewing process. The general pattern was that students would submit first drafts on Mondays, by class time; those papers would be made available to reviewers at the end of a two-hour grace period (i.e., class started at 3:30pm and papers were available to reviewers at 5:30pm so slightly late papers could still get reviewed without messing up any of the assignments) and reviews were due by class time on Wednesday (again with a two-hour grace period). Depending on the assignment, students reviewed three to five papers (the longest assignment was 5 pages, and most were a lot shorter, so this should not have been too huge a burden). Final drafts were due the following Monday and 'reflective memos' were due Wednesday. The reflective memos included students' reflections on their own work (e.g, 'what did you learn') and also their back evaluations of the peer reviews they received. For the back evaluations, I asked them to provide both a score of 1 to 5 and an explanation for their score. I did not have students do a peer review of the final draft (I just graded those myself).

Some big benefits of PeerMark, particularly compared to SWoRD, include:
  • I have lots of control over things like when the assignment is due, when the reviews are available, and how many reviews students must complete. Reviewers can either be randomly assigned or I can assign specific students to review specific authors, or some combination;
  • The reviewing interface allows students to highlight things in the paper and make notes at the exact spot they've highlighted;
  • Students can give both quantitative scores (on a 1-5 scale) and qualitative explanations;
  • Reviews can be anonymous to the authors but I can easily see who they are (you could also allow students to see who their reviewers are).
One of the obvious downsides, compared to SWoRD, is that grading is less 'automated' and therefore more work for me. With PeerMark, it's possible to get the average of the reviewing scores (overall and for individual items on the review), which could be used as at least part of the draft grade for the authors, but there's no fancy weighting system like SWoRD has. It's also possible to let authors give each review a score within the PeerMark interface, but only numeric scores between 1 and 10 are allowed and there's no place for an explanation of those scores. So I ended up reading all of the first drafts and the reviews much more carefully, giving them my own grades (and part of the review scores were based on whether the reviewer gave a similar score for the draft that I came up with myself). I also used my own weighting system for the draft grades; that is, the grade for the first draft was a weighted average of my own assessment and the peer review scores, weighted by the scores given to the reviews (so if someone did a bad job as a reviewer, their score did not count as much). This was all a bit of a pain but on the plus side, you can create whatever kind of weighting system you want and make it completely transparent.

There are a few things that are still not ideal and that I'm working on fixing the next time around. One is that there is no easy way to give students feedback on their reviewing skills, explaining exactly why they got the reviewing score they did and how to improve the next time around. The only thing I could come up with was adding comments to the reviewing grades in the Blackboard gradebook, which is a pretty clunky workaround. There was also some confusion in the back evaluations about which review students were evaluating. Since the reviewers were all anonymous, when students went into PeerMark to view their reviews, all they saw was 'Reviewer 1', 'Reviewer 2', etc. But in some cases, the order of those reviewers was not the same as what I was seeing so I could not be 100% sure who Reviewer 1 or 2 really was. Next time around, I may ask students to use some sort of identifier in their reviews, like a pseudonym or the last four digits of their student ID number.

But overall, things definitely were smoother this year. That was partly due to lessons I learned last year about the reviewing process in general (for example, I think my prompts for the reviews were clearer), but there was definitely less confusion about what was due when, thanks to everything being in Blackboard and being able to set deadlines that corresponded to class times, and I think reviewers gave better feedback because they could use the in-text comment tool to pinpoint specific spots that needed work. All in all, I think PeerMark is an excellent tool for facilitating peer review.