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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.