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Friday, December 27, 2013

Economics Education sessions at the ASSAs

I won’t be in Philadelphia but for those attending the meetings, here are all the education-related sessions I could find (please let me know if I missed any!):

Jan 03, 2014 10:15 am, Philadelphia Marriott, Grand Ballroom - Salon L American Economic Association
Experiments and the Economics Classroom (I2) (Panel Discussion)
Panel Moderator: TISHA EMERSON (Baylor University)
SHERYL BALL (Virginia Tech)
TED BERGSTROM (University of California-Santa Barbara)
CHARLES HOLT (University of Virginia)
JOHN MORGAN (University of California-Berkeley)

Jan 03, 2014 12:30 pm, Philadelphia Marriott, Meeting Room 305National Association of Economic Educators
Determinants of Student Achievement in High School and Undergraduate Economics and Personal Finance Classrooms (A2)
Presiding: ANDREW HILL (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia)
Does Student Engagement Affect Student Achievement in High School Economics Classes?
JODY HOFF (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco)
JANE LOPUS (California State University-East Bay)

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (At Least): The Effective Use of Visuals in the Economics Classroom
JOSE J. VAZQUEZ (University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign)
ERIC P. CHIANG (Florida Atlantic University)

Teacher Characteristics and Student Achievement in Economics: Evidence from the 2006 NAEP
ERIN A. YETTER (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)

Teacher Preparation and Student Achievement in a High School Personal Finance: Evidence from "Keys to Financial Success"
REBECCA CHAMBERS (University of Delaware)
ANDREW T. HILL (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia)

Discussants:MARY SUITER (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)
REBECCA CHAMBERS (University of Delaware)
ELIZABETH BREITBACH (University of South Carolina)
STEPHEN BUCKLES (Vanderbilt University)

Jan 03, 2014 2:30 pm, Philadelphia Marriott, Grand Ballroom - Salon JAmerican Economic Association
Research in Economic Education (A2)
Presiding: GAIL HOYT (University of Kentucky)

Do Graduate Students' Preferences for Course Delivery Differ from Undergraduate Students?
JOHN MANN (Michigan State University)
SHIDA HENNEBERRY (Oklahoma State University)

15 Years of Research on Graduate Education in Economics: What Have We Learned?
WENDY STOCK (Montana State University)
JOHN SIEGFRIED (Vanderbilt University) [Download Preview]

Incorporating Community-Based Learning into a Course on the Economics of Poverty
NICOLE B. SIMPSON (Colgate University)
STEVEN BEDNAR (Elon University) [Download Preview]

Cooperative Learning: Can It Off-Set Some of the Costs of Large Enrollment Classes?
TISHA EMERSON (Baylor University)
LINDA CARTER (Baylor University)
KIMMARIE MCGOLDRICK (University of Richmond)

Discussants:STEPHEN WU (Hamilton College)
PAUL W. GRIMES (Pittsburg State University)
SAM ALLGOOD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
WILLIAM BOSSHARDT (Florida Atlantic University)
Jan 04, 2014 10:15 am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, 201-BAmerican Economic Association
Economics Education in the Digital Age: The Implications of Online Technologies and MOOCs (A1)
Presiding: NANCY ROSE (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Teaching Economics Online: Experience With a MOOC on Development Economics
ABHIJIT BANERJEE (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)ESTHER DUFLO (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

The Industrial Organization of Online Education
TYLER COWEN (George Mason University)
ALEX TABARROK (George Mason University)

The Democratization of Education
DARON ACEMOGLU (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
DAVID LAIBSON (Harvard University)
JOHN A. LIST (University of Chicago)

Sustainable Business Models for MOOCs? Standard and Advanced Education Models
CAROLINE HOXBY (Stanford University)

Discussants:GAIL HOYT (University of Kentucky)
JOHN SIEGFRIED (Vanderbilt University)
Jan 04, 2014 12:30 pm, Philadelphia Marriott, Meeting Room 410National Association of Economic Educators
The Effects of Personal Finance Education Over the Life Cycle (A2)
Presiding: JEANNE HOGARTH (Center for Financial Services Innovation)

Educational IDAs: Impact on Educational Attainment and Personal Finance Attitudes and Behavior
RADHA BHATTACHARYA (California State University-Fullerton)
ANDREW GILL (California State University-Fullerton)
DENISE STANLEY (California State University-Fullerton)

The Importance of Financial Literacy in Retirement Planning
ASHLEY THARAYIL (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Financial Literacy and Banking Participation: Findings and Implications for Economic Education
ELIZABETH BREITBACH (University of South Carolina)
WILLIAM WALSTAD (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

An Empirical Analysis Linking a Person's Financial Risk Tolerance and Financial Literacy to Financial Behaviors
JAMIE WAGNER (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Discussants:ERIN A. YETTER (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Louisville Branch)
JANE LOPUS (California State University-East Bay)
JEANNE HOGARTH (Center for Financial Services Innovation)
PAUL W. GRIMES (Pittsburg State University)
Jan 04, 2014 2:30 pm, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Grand HallAmerican Economic Association
AEA Committee on Economic Education Poster Session (Poster Session)
Presiding: STEVEN COBB (University of North Texas)

Do Monetary Incentives Matter in Classroom Experiments: Effects on Game Performance and Exam Scores
MATTHEW ROUSU (Susquehanna University)
JAY CORRIGAN (Kenyon College)
JILL HAYTER (East Tennessee State University)
GREG COLSON (University of Georgia)
DAVID HARRIS (Benedictine College)
OLUGBENGA ONAFOWORA (Susquehanna University)

Brand Name Quiz and Incentives of Product Differentiation in Monopolistic Competition
XIN FANG (University of Illinois-Chicago)

Why is it Not Always Easy to Convince the Value of (Neoclassical) Microeconomic Theory to Graduate Students in Healthcare Administration?
HENGAMEH M. HOSSEINI (Pennsylvania State University - Harrisburg) [Download Preview]

Use of Rubrics in Undergraduate Economics Classes
VERONIKA DOLAR (Long Island University)

Students' Time-Allocation, Attitudes and Performance on Multiple-Choice Tests
VLADIMIR HLASNY (Ewha Womans University)

Poster Projects in Economics Classroom: Stimulating Active Learning and Creativity
INESSA LOVE (University of Hawaii-Manoa)

Teaching Replication in Quantitative Empirical Economics
JAN H. HOFFLER (University of Gottingen)

Three Effective Strategies in Teaching Undergraduate Econometrics Courses
LEILA FARIVAR (Ohio State University)

Service Learning in a Business Finance Economics Course
MAX ST. BROWN (Washington State University)

The Effectiveness of Participatory Simulation in Resource Economics Education
YU-LI KO (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

Directed Crib Sheet Development as a Preparation and Review Tool: Identifying Effectiveness of Incentives on Student Learning Outcomes in Principles of Economics
COLIN CANNONIER (Belmont University)
KARA D. S. MITCHELL (Belmont University)

Getting Students in Introductory Economics Classes to Understand the Economics of Health Insurance
RANGANATH MURTHY (Western New England University)

Experiment Illustrating the Provision of Discrete Public Good under Asymetric Information
SHIZUKA NISHIKAWA (St. Mary's College of Maryland)

Increase Student Engagement and Foster Critical Thinking Using Data-Driven Exercises
AMY HENDERSON (St. Mary's College of Maryland)

Use of Student Authors: Study Guide to Teach Applied Econometrics and Introductory Statistics
ROD D. RAEHSLER (Clarion University)

Active Group Design in Trading Simulation to Promote Active Learning
XIAOWEN GAO (Coventry University London)

Checker Flag Apps for a Winning Pedagogy
HOWARD H. COCHRAN (Belmont University)
MARIETA V. VELIKOVA (Belmont University)
BRADLEY D. CHILDS (Belmont University)

Using CDF to Make Graphics Interactive in Lectures and Online Exercises
TOM CREAHAN (Morehead State University)

The Role of Algebra I Assessment in Improving Student Performance in Principles of Microeconomics
IRENE R. FOSTER (George Washington University)
MELANIE ALLWINE (George Washington University)

An Interactive Graphing Activity
WILLIAM ALPERT (University of Connecticut)
OSKAR HARMON (University of Connecticut)
ADAM NEMEROFF (University of Connecticut)
ROBERT SZARKA (University of Connecticut)
PAUL TOMOLONIS (University of Connecticut)

The Power of Voice in Online Education: Using VoiceThread to Promote Reflection, Participation and Community
CATHERINE LAWSON (Missouri Western State University)

To Donate or Not to Donate-Classroom Game Illustrating the Characteristics of a Public Good
ASHLEY THARAYIL (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

First Impressions and Lasting Impressions: Making Economics Memorable
CHARITY-JOY ACCHIARDO (Transylvania University)
G. DIRK MATEER (University of Kentucky)

Introduction to the Three-Range Aggregate Supply Curve: A Cooperative Learning Activity
LAURA WHITAKER (University of Delaware)

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

A Competitive Market Demonstration for Principles of Microeconomics Courses
LUCAS M. ENGELHARDT (Kent State University)
Jan 04, 2014 2:30 pm, Philadelphia Marriott, Meeting Room 410National Association of Economic Educators
What Matters in Principles of Economics Classes? (A2)
Presiding: ANDREW HILL (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia)

Loss Aversion, Irrational Behavior, and Student Motivation in the Economics Classroom
MARIA APOSTOLOVA (University of Kentucky)
WILLIAM COOPER (University of Kentucky)
GAIL HOYT (University of Kentucky)
EMILY MARSHALL (University of Kentucky)

Non-Cognitive Skills and Performance of Macro Principles Students
WILLIAM L. GOFFE (Pennsylvania State University)
DEBORAH GOINS (Pennsylvania State University)

A Panel Data Study of Student Knowledge Growth: Application of an Economic Empirical Growth Model
TIN-CHUN LIN (Indiana University-Northwest)

Does Calculator Use and Test Format Mask Weakness in Basic Math Ability?: Experimental Evidence of Impact on Comprehension in Principles of Economics
MELANIE ALLWINE (George Washington University)
IRENE R. FOSTER (George Washington University)

Discussants:CARLOS ASARTA (University of Delaware)
ANDREW T. HILL (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia)
MARY H. LESSER (Lenoir-Rhyne University)
WILLIAM L. GOFFE (Pennsylvania State University)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The cost of Christmas

Actual inflation might be running low but according to PNC's annual Christmas Price Index, the cost of Christmas is up 7.7% (or 6.9% if you sum up ALL the gifts for all the repetitions of the song). Of the individual items, nine ladies dancing is up the most, 20% - perhaps a sign of growing gender wage equality? PNC also calculates a 'core' index (10.6%) that excludes the swans, since they are the most volatile item in the basket, and they point out that this is analogous to the core CPI which excludes food and energy.

Also, if anyone needs gift ideas for academic friends, this mug is a must-have! (also available as a t-shirt!)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

CTREE conference

If you haven't seen the call for submissions yet, the AEA is looking for proposals for the Fourth Annual AEA Conference on Teaching (at the undergraduate and graduate levels) and Research in Economic Education (all levels, including precollege). The conference will be held from May 28 to May 30, 2014 in Washington, DC at the Washington Marriott at Metro Center.  The conference is hosted by the Committee on Economic Education in cooperation with the Journal of Economic Education.  Plenary talks will be given by Alan Blinder (Princeton), Kenneth G. Elzinga (UVA), Cecilia Rouse (Princeton) and other speakers TBA. Submissions for program participation will be accepted via the AEA online submission system. Submissions may be of individual papers, complete sessions of three or four papers, workshops, or panels. Complete session submissions are encouraged. The submission deadline is December 1, 2013. More information is available at http://www.aeaweb.org/committees/AEACEE/index.php. Questions about submissions should be sent to Gail Hoyt at ghoyt@email.uky.edu.  To see past CEE conference presentations, program and schedule of events click here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Economics Teaching Conference

I’m getting ready for the 9th Annual Economics Teaching Conference later this week, in Austin. I’m doing two presentations, one Thursday morning on using cell phones in the classroom (i.e., Bring-Your-Own-Device audience response systems) and one Friday morning that is an Introduction to Team-Based Learning. If you’ll be there, come say hi!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What is the goal of moving education online?

I spent last Friday at the EconEd conference in Florida where I was part of a panel on ‘flipping the classroom’. The whole day was great, starting with the first session with Alex Tabarrok talking about “why online education works”. He had a lot of good points about the time and cost savings associated with online education but there was something that kept nagging at me. As I thought about it more, I realized that what was bugging me is also the main source of my general discomfort with most discussions about the benefits online education: those benefits largely seem to be tied to a model of education where ‘learning’ really just means ‘knowledge transfer’. That is, as far as I can tell, most of the time and cost savings of ‘online education’ are associated with moving lectures online, not necessarily any other aspect of the classroom learning experience.

Now, sure, if a teacher is currently standing at the front of the room and talking to the students, then it absolutely makes sense that such ‘teaching’ could be done more efficiently online, through videos by a superstar lecturer, for all the reasons Alex mentioned – an unlimited number of students could watch at their own pace, at a time/place that is most convenient for them, without having to deal with commuting or parking. But is that the model of ‘learning’ we really want to be replicating and spreading farther? There are a lot of people who have been arguing for a long time that if you want students to develop critical thinking skills, to actually learn how to DO economics, how to THINK like economists, then the lecture model is not a great way to go about teaching in face-to-face classrooms. So why is it any better just because it is done online? I get that it’s cheaper but if what we want is for students to learn deeply, then it shouldn’t matter that it’s cheaper – it still isn’t effective.

Of course, if what you want is to make content available in a relatively engaging format to people who would/could not otherwise access it, then online delivery is great. There are thousands of people across the world who are now able to learn/re-learn subjects they have a personal interest in, by watching videos of top experts in the field, many of whom are outstanding lecturers. And I love the idea of using online resources to flip classes (e.g., Derek Bruff has a fascinating post/paper about “wrapping” a course around a MOOC); moving content delivery online means class time is freed up for discussion, interaction and building higher-order skills. But I know that is not what university administrators mean when they talk about ‘online education' because hybrid online courses do not come with anywhere near the same sort of cost savings as fully online courses.

And that’s the problem I have when people start talking about online education ‘disrupting’ traditional education: they aren’t actually talking about replacing what we have now with something better in terms of helping students learn more deeply; they are talking about replacing what we have now with something that is more of the same in terms of learning, just produced at lower cost for more students (and with fewer faculty, which is a whole different issue). That is, with the model of “online education = more efficient content delivery for the masses”, we can have a similar quality of education we have now, for a larger quantity of students, with lower (marginal) costs. With the model of “online education = resources for more effective face-to-face teaching”, we can have a much higher quality of education than we have now, for a similar quantity of students, with similar costs. To be fair, the former could also offer marginally higher quality if the market condenses so only the best lecturers create the video lectures, but it’s still just content delivery. I'm also not saying that there aren't some fully online courses out there that do a great job of engaging students and creating interactive experiences that contribute to deep learning - but my understanding is that those courses generally do not come with the same economies of scale and reduction in costs.

I guess the way I would sum it up is that making content more accessible to more people with lower (marginal) costs is great but it is a very different goal from improving the education of the students we currently serve. And I think that is part of the frustration many faculty experience during these discussions of online education, as many advocates for online education (especially university administrators!) seem more focused on the first goal while we would rather talk about the second. Personally, I wish we were devoting less energy to debating the merits of online education and devoting a lot more to thinking about how to get instructors in both online and face-to-face classrooms to go beyond just content delivery…

Thursday, September 26, 2013

New study finds teaching specialists are better teachers

Unfortunately, that isn’t the headline on any of the media articles about the NBER working paper by Northwestern economists David Figlio, Morton Schapiro (who is also Northwestern’s President) and Kevin Soter. I wasn’t actually going to write about this, mostly because David is a really good friend (not to mention an outstanding economist) and I haven’t had the time to figure out how to say what I wanted to say without sounding like I was unjustly criticizing his work. But fortunately, a couple of other people have made the points I wanted to make (mostly without sounding overly critical of the authors). The basic gist is this: the Figlio, et al, paper got a ton of press last week for supposedly finding that “Adjuncts are better teachers than tenured professors” (that’s the headline from the Chronicle), thus causing many in the higher ed community to freak out. But what most of those stories seemed to miss (or glossed over) was that the non-tenured (or non-tenure-track) instructors in the Northwestern sample are NOT your typical ‘adjuncts’, at least not in the sense that most people in higher ed think of (i.e., I think most of us associate 'adjunct' with short-term, temporary part-timers). Rather, the Northwestern non-tenured/non-tenure-track folks included in the study are mostly full-timers with long-term stable contracts*. And as noted in this Atlantic article by Jordan Weissmann, they are generally paid much more than your typical adjunct.

So, the way I interpret the findings of the Northwestern study are that instructors who are hired to specialize in teaching end up being better at teaching than instructors who are hired to produce both teaching AND research. Hmmmm. Not exactly a shocker to economists. But I can see why '”Are Tenured Professors Better Teachers?” makes a better headline…

If you are interested in what the research has to say about whether typical adjuncts are better teachers, Weissmann’s Atlantic article has a great overview of the literature. The upshot:
This isn't a complete rundown of all the research on this topic, nor are any of these studies definitive. Each has its own shortcomings and methodological challenges. But read together, I think they can begin to tell us a few things. Tenured professors don't necessarily make the best teachers in every subject or school. Adjuncts might be excellent for teaching certain pre-professional courses. But as a whole, students, and especially at-risk students like young freshmen and community colleges attendees, appear to be better off with a full-time professor, whether they're tenured or not.
I think that last point – that full-time/part-time matters more than tenured/non-tenured – is particularly key. But as Weissman points out, more research is needed…

* The one thing I do fault David and his co-authors for is that the explanation about the nature of Northwestern’s non-tenured instructors is stuck in a footnote. But I have a feeling the next iteration of the paper will have a much bigger discussion of this.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Where is the market failure in marriage?

In honor of National Unmarried and Single Americans Week, I’m going to pose a question that may be somewhat controversial: Is there an economic rationale for government incentives to get married? By ‘government incentives to get married’, I’m talking about all the ways in which the government (and society in general) privileges married people. Of course, this is something that the gay community has been yelling about for a long time but I think many straight people don’t really, fully grasp the extent of the issue.* One widely-cited statistic is that there are over 1000 benefits, rights and protections in Federal laws that are based on marital status. Some of these benefits can still be obtained by the unmarried, with additional work (e.g., I can manually change the beneficiary for my retirement accounts or sign an advanced health directive so my partner can make medical decisions for me) but many are simply not available to unmarried people, period. It’s no wonder that single-sex couples are so eager to gain access to legal marriage (completely aside from the social acceptance aspect, of course).

But to me, the bigger question is: why should people have to get married to get these benefits in the first place? Is there any economic rationale for government policies that confer benefits on the married? In my Principles course, I teach my students that government intervention may be warranted in situations of market failure; that is, where the market outcome may be inefficient, such as when there are externalities, asymmetric information, natural monopolies, public goods or common resources. Alternatively, the government may want to intervene in some scenarios where the market outcome seems inequitable. But do either of these apply to marriage today?

Many of the pro-marriage laws on the books today were actually adopted decades ago, when the marriage market looked very different. In the 1950’s, few women worked so I can imagine that policies to encourage marriage and protect housewives could have been justified on equity grounds (i.e., marriage was a way for women to avoid poverty). But that obviously doesn’t make sense today. From an efficiency standpoint, the only argument I can think of must involve externalities somehow. That is, people other than a particular couple presumably benefit somehow from that couple being married. I guess the conservative argument is that married couples are more “stable” and better behaved (?) and this is therefore better for society than if those people were running around just cohabitating or being single. I don’t know that there is really much evidence of this – a quick Google search turned up lots of rhetoric along the lines of ‘family values’, and studies about how marriage benefits the people IN the marriage (though the psychologist Bella DePaulo has also written a lot about how those studies often don’t actually show causality), but I couldn’t find much showing that marriage, per se, has positive externalities, such as causing people to act any better (for society) than before they were married. The closest I could find was arguments about the impact on children (i.e., kids do better when their parents stay together) but if that’s the basis for government incentives, then all the benefits should only go to couples with kids, not just anybody who is married.

Although I can’t think of a good argument for marriage benefit policies based on the standard idea of economic efficiency (i.e., the market ‘underprovides’ marriage so the government needs to provide incentives to boost consumption/production), I can imagine an argument based on administrative efficiency – i.e., some policies were probably adopted simply to reduce paperwork (e.g., most people would name their spouse as their beneficiary/spokesperson in most situations anyway so making that the default saves time and effort), or because “legal spouse” seems like an easy shortcut to identify “Very Important Person in my life”. But given that 46 percent of American households are now maintained by unmarried men or women (including 6.7 million specifically ‘unmarried-partner’ households), and the increasing trend in the percentage of couples choosing cohabitation over marriage, it seems like perhaps we should starting questioning whether marriage as the ‘default’ is really the most efficient way to go…

* Full disclosure: I am in a committed lifetime relationship but with no plans to get married because my partner is a relatively staunch Libertarian who doesn't think the government should be involved in the marriage game (for people of any sexual orientation). Because of this, I've been learning a lot about the things people have to do to work around policies that privilege the legally married.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mind map as task manager

How to Mind Map

Do you use mind maps? I don’t. Or at least, I didn’t, before a few weeks ago. I’d heard/read about other people who use them but I’ve never been that interested, I think partly because the examples I’ve always seen have looked kind of, well, messy, with circles and branches all over the place (the example I found for this post being a case in point!). So I associated mind maps with more creative, non-linear thinking. In contrast, I am very much a structured-outline kind of girl. Along those lines, I am also a huge maker of To Do lists, mostly organized the old-fashioned way: written on random bits of paper, kept together and loosely organized on a clipboard.

But a few weeks ago, I read an article that, for some reason, got me thinking that maybe I should give mind mapping a try. Even though the article contains one of those really messy mind map examples I find completely intimidating, I happened to read it when I was in the middle of going through all the different projects I’m working on and trying to find some way to get everything organized. My problem is that each project has its own To Do list, and although very few of the items are urgent (in the sense of ‘must get done by some deadline in the near future’), I know I need to make steady progress on each of them. I previously had kept a page on my clipboard where, for each project, I had my To Dos listed but a) as I crossed off items, it became harder to keep track of what still needed to get done, b) I would run out of space to add new items so I found myself re-doing the whole list every couple weeks, and c) I had a hard time keeping track of which projects needed my attention most. All of these issues suggested that I needed an electronic solution but I’ve tried many different task list applications and have never found anything that I felt worked well for me.

So I figured I’d see how a mind map app would work. I did some digging around for a cloud-based application because I want to be able to access my Task List map on my phone or tablet. I ended up trying Mindomo and pretty quickly made my first map. From the starting core, I added branches that represent the main areas of my work life (i.e., Teaching, Research, Department, Other) and then added branches from there for each project (e.g., below Teaching, I have a branch for each of my classes plus one for this blog and one for a workshop I’m developing for the San Diego Council for Economic Education). Below each project, I have branches for each To Do task.

In structure, this isn’t all that different from what I could do with an outline made in Word. But there are several things that are easy to do with Mindomo that mesh well with the way I think about my tasks:
  • I can expand and collapse different branches, making it easy to focus on my tasks for a specific project or all the projects within a specific work area. I can expand the map so just the first and second levels are showing, which basically shows me a list of all my projects, or I can expand all the branches so looking at the outer-most ring gives me an idea of ALL the tasks I have for ALL my projects. Or say I want this to be a Research week, I can look at just the tasks related to my Research projects, or the tasks related to just one paper.
  • I can move tasks from one branch to another easily. I have a ‘completed’ branch for each project so as I complete tasks, I move them to that branch and then keep that branch collapsed so I don’t see those tasks when I’m looking at what needs to still get done.
  • I can add tasks anytime and anywhere, and I can re-order branches to visually reflect which projects and tasks I need to prioritize.
  • The free version of Mindomo allows me to store three maps on their server (you can have unlimited maps on your local machine). So I can see all my tasks on my phone if I’m away from my computer (technically, I can also edit my cloud-based maps, which I might do if I were on a tablet but it’s a bit hard on a phone).
I’ve only been working with this for a few weeks but so far, I’m liking it. It also has made me more willing to try mind mapping for other purposes, like brainstorming ideas. What do you use mind maps for?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stuff to check out

  • On September 6, the Flipped Learning Network is hosting “Flip your classroom” day. More info at http://www.flippedday.org/. You could use one of Mary McGlasson’s videos (described in more detail a few weeks ago), or one of Liam Lenten’s sports economics videos (described in this post).
  • MobLab is a new site that hosts interactive games that students can access from mobile browsers as well as laptops. I did a demo last month and it looks pretty slick. I could definitely see using this as an alternative to Aplia’s experiments in Principles (especially if, like me, you like Aplia more for the experiments than the problem sets) plus they have a lot of games for upper-division courses.
  • I really should have posted this earlier in the summer but if you or someone you know is teaching for the first time this fall, you may want to look at a paper I have forthcoming in the Southern Economic Journal: “A Primer for New Teachers”, written with Gail Hoyt and Brandon Sheridan. The paper offers advice for first-time econ teachers, both about the administrative logistics of things like classroom management, and easing into using interactive techniques. [Note: the SEJ link will allow you to access the paper if you are a member of the Southern Economic Association. If you aren’t, you can get the paper from my website here].

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sabbatical guilt

Today is the first official day of my sabbatical – woohoo! Of course, one could argue that my sabbatical really began when the spring semester ended but today is the first official day of the fall semester at school so it’s the first day I don’t “have” to be on campus when I otherwise would.

Whenever I tell non-academics about my sabbatical, I feel a little guilty. I know that a lot of my non-academic friends don’t really understand why academics like me even get sabbaticals. After all, it’s not like I’m in archeology or art history or some other discipline where people obviously need the time away from teaching in order to go do field work. I’m not even leaving town this time around. I usually just explain that even if I can get some research done while teaching, I can get a whole lot more done when I have bigger chunks of uninterrupted time.

But I think the main reason I feel guilty is because I know that for me, sabbatical is not really about getting work done (although work WILL get done!) – it’s about mentally and emotionally recharging so I can hopefully return to my job and still love what I do. Seven years ago, during my first sabbatical, I did get completely out of San Diego; basically, I needed to clear my head and figure out whether I really wanted to come back. At that time, I felt completely burnt out but realized it was mostly about the stress of getting tenure, with a big dose of annoying department politics mixed in. I had been focused pretty single-mindedly on the goal of tenure for a pathetically long time, but once I achieved it, I had to stop and really think about whether I actually wanted it, and if I did, if this department was where I wanted to be. Clearly, I decided to stay, but I think that if I had not been able to leave and get some distance so I could objectively think it through, there’s a good chance I would have simply left entirely.

Now I’m sitting here at the start of another sabbatical and in many ways, I feel almost as burnt out as I did seven years ago, though for mostly different reasons. And again, I find myself asking big questions about whether I really want to keep doing what I’ve been doing. This time isn’t about the stress of trying to meet requirements imposed by others; instead, I guess I would say it’s more like a mid-life crisis. There are a lot of things about my job that I love but what about the things I really don’t love? Are those things I can do something about? If so, what do I need to do? If not, is it really the right job for me? Could I accomplish more, be happier, doing something else? What in the world would ‘something else’ look like? Could it mean leaving academia?

I imagine I’ll write more about my thoughts on these questions over the next year. The point I wanted to make here is simply that I feel incredibly lucky that I have the opportunity to indulge in this sort of periodic reflection. And although I’m sure most people probably don’t obsess about this stuff to the extent that I do, it seems to me that all sabbaticals provide some opportunity to re-charge in a way that likely leads to us ultimately feeling happier about our jobs. When I think about how many people are academics for their entire lives, and don’t even want to retire when they have that option, I have to wonder how much sabbaticals contribute to that. What if everyone had the option to periodically step out of their day-to-day jobs, to spend a few months focusing on the aspects of their jobs they enjoy the most, to explore new ideas, or simply to get some distance from co-workers who drive them crazy? This is why I say I feel guilty about my sabbatical – I feel guilty that I get this opportunity when most people don’t. But I don’t think that will stop me from savoring every minute!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Adventures with a hybrid class, Part III

This is the last of a series of three guest posts from Mary McGlasson ofChandler-Gilbert Community College. Part I describes how she came to create a set of videos for a hybrid course and Part II discusses how she holds students accountable for watching them.

PART III: How did I make the videos?
Instructors often contact me asking how I created the videos. Short answer? With LOTS of time and patience.

You see, there is no single step in the process that is terribly difficult, but each of the steps does require time. Below (click image to enlarge) is a summary version of the crash course in Digital Storytelling that I co-facilitated at our college (adapted from "Digital Storytelling Contest" website).

If you are interested, you can use this link to check out the Chandler-Gilbert workshop page – the PDF of the table below is available for download on that page, so you will have links that work (here, I used screenshots of the table, so of course the links are not “live”).

Is there anything else in the works?
At the moment, I am working on making some iBooks that follow the series — at our college, the cost to a student of a new textbook is at least as much as the tuition for the course. We've tried working with the publishers to keep costs down by going with custom books, unbound books, etc., but frankly, none of it has helped the student very much, so I am hoping to go textbook-free in the near future.  

Once the iBook is downloaded to the iPad, the student (or instructor) could watch the video offline, within the "chapter" (since connectivity is often an issue at older institutions without updated infrastructure, or at schools that block access to YouTube). The iBooks are great because they also allow me to incorporate slideshows, interactive graphs, and interactive review questions. 

I know that not every student has an iPad, and I will certainly have alternative forms of the resources available to students (the book content is really the videos, the video transcripts, illustrations that are from the videos, and review questions after each video that are in addition to the homework review), but I am hoping that this will be useful to many of our students.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Adventures with a hybrid class, Part II

This is the second of a series of three guest posts from Mary McGlasson of Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Part I discussed her decision to create a set of videos for use with a hybrid principles course.

PART II: How to keep the students accountable to watch (and process) the video content?
In that last entry, I said, “I needed to be sure that my students worked through the content on their own, or the face-to-face portion would be a total loss.“ But I didn’t really mention how I keep them on task, did I? Students in my classes are kept accountable because they have to answer a set of practice questions on each of the videos they've been assigned for homework. They are assigned “Video Homework” each week, where they need to (1) watch each assigned video, and (2) complete an assigned set of questions about that video’s content by the assigned due date.

These days, Learning Management Systems (Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Canvas, Moodle, etc.) make it easy for the instructor to embed a video and include an assessment, so all of the Video Homework assignments for my class are on the class website, with set deadlines, and the results feed into my gradebook. No single assignment is worth very much in terms of points, but taken as a whole, doing these assignments matters to the student’s grade:
  • Each assignment is worth only 1 point (0.2% of the semester grade), but in total they account for 5% of the student's grade. WHY? This way if a student has an occasional slip-up, they haven’t sabotaged their entire grade.
  • Students get three attempts on each practice set, and must successfully complete each practice set (i.e., get a 90% or higher) to get the point for that assignment. WHY? I want students to be able to go back and try again, learning from mistakes, but I don’t want them to randomly guess until they get the answers; nor do I want them to just click through the assignment for the sake of getting it done.
  • In the hybrid class, because the work is their classwork for the week in between meeting times, failure to complete the homework on time not only costs the point(s) for the assignment(s); it also counts as an absence, so the student loses attendance points. WHY? Just an extra incentive – I am trying to reinforce the message that this work MUST be completed.
Our District recently adopted Canvas as the Learning Management System, which has a couple of nice additional features I've started using:
  • Students must complete the assignments in a specified order (they cannot skip ahead to new material without completing the previous material)
  • I am able to specify that a student cannot move on unless he/she gets a specific score on a practice set — in my class, 70%. So if a student has gone through three attempts on a 10-question practice set and not achieved at least a 70, they would need to contact me to add another attempt to get that score so that they can move on to the new material. This serves not only as a deterrent for just randomly guessing on the assignments, but also lets me know when students are struggling.  [NOTE from Jenn: It is also possible to set up these sort of rules in Blackboard using ‘adaptive release’ rules]

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Adventures with a hybrid class, Part I

This is the first of a series of three guest posts from Mary McGlasson of Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

PART I: What possessed me to undertake this video project?
Let me introduce myself – I am Dr. Mary McGlasson, Economics faculty (and faculty developer for emerging technologies) at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, one of ten sister colleges in the Maricopa District. Our college serves about 14,000 students annually, and student learning is at the heart of all that we do. One strategy that we have taken with our Economics courses is to offer a wide variety of modalities – traditional (16 week, face-to-face), compressed (8 week, face-to-face), online, and hybrid (a mix of face-to-face and online) – for students to choose from.

Seven years ago, I agreed to offer our college’s first hybrid Economics class. How hard could it be? After all, my face-to-face classes were already web-enhanced, heavily using the features of the Learning Management System (Blackboard, at the time). I would just lecture as usual, and direct them in online discussions and research in between our face-to-face sessions. To make a long story short, there was one word to sum up that first semester’s attempt: disaster. It was an utter, absolute, unmitigated disaster. The class just never gelled – I was unable to get the students to participate, interact, and collaborate in either the face-to-face sessions or the online arena. Half of the students dropped the class. I decided that maybe hybrid and I simply weren’t cut out for one another, and the following semester I went back to the traditional fully face-to-face delivery mode.

A couple of years later, my colleagues and I were still interested in offering hybrid courses, especially for the added scheduling flexibility it offered our students. Reflecting on my earlier failure, it was clear that many of the students who had taken the hybrid course didn’t know what they were getting into; from the schedule, they clearly thought that all they had to do was show up to class once a week instead of twice a week – doing work between sessions hadn’t occurred to many of them. That was the point at which I realized that with half the usual face time, I needed them to digest the lecture basics on their own, and use our precious face time for the active/collaborative learning components (yes, a year or two later the term "flipped classroom" became all the rage -- too bad I didn't realize it was going to be such a hot trend!).

How was I going to make the hybrid class model work for me and for my students? I needed to be sure that my students worked through the content on their own, or the face-to-face portion would be a total loss. Having them watch video content seemed ideal, but there just wasn’t much available. And so I started creating a series of my own Macro/Micro principles videos (which I now have posted on YouTube at http://youtube.com/mjmfoodie). I did NOT want to post any "talking head" videos of me standing in front of a camera lecturing about Economics, so I created the artwork — lots of stick people and the occasional sock monkey -- and used Windows Movie Maker (because it's free!) to create the series.  

This time, the hybrid model worked, and I have been teaching both Micro and Macro principles in this format for the last few years. In my end-of-semester evaluations, two of the questions I ask are:
  • “Would you take another hybrid class?” – the majority say highly likely/likely (on the last evaluation, out of 100 students, 3 students said “definitely not”).
  • “WHAT TYPE of class activity contributed most to your success and understanding of economics this semester?” – the majority of students say that the videos are the most useful.
While my intent was to use these videos for my own classes, much to my surprise, I have gotten correspondence from instructors and students from all over the world (163 countries, last time I checked…?) telling me how helpful these have been to them. The YouTube channel currently has close to 14,000 subscribers and 3,000,000 views. Who knew?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Some Sports Economics Video Series

This is a guest post from Liam Lenten from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. 

Hello to all Economics for Teachers readers. I was at the Westerns last week, and came across Jennifer’s session on clicking technologies. She has been gracious in allowing me to provide a guest post, so here goes:

As many of you are aware, much of (particularly) Microeconomics is about human decision-making. Since students make many decisions in their own daily lives, it should be easy to be taught effectively. The sports and cultural sectors have much (still untapped) potential to contribute to student understanding. By using interactive means such as YouTube and other internet resources, the classroom experience can be made more contemporary, relevant and interesting. I wanted to take this concept to its zenith – and as such, a year ago I wrote (and present in) a series of six short videos, called Some Sports Economics, with the aim of making a significant pedagogical contribution to teaching and learning practice. Each video takes material directly from the Sports Economics curriculum (which I teach at La Trobe), each explaining a basic economic concept (such as prisoners’ dilemma, absolute and comparative advantage, complementaries, etc.) using tools and analogies from sports, as opposed to being presented in the typical ‘dry’ textbook manner.

These six videos have now collectively yielded nearly 6,000 page views on YouTube and over 35,000 file downloads on i-Tunes. I promoted them heavily in the first few weeks of my 2012 lectures, and it was clear to see that the students who made use of them performed particularly well in the mid-semester test. I have also received significant positive feedback about these videos from students in my other subjects (where they have also been made available). Despite the (slight) Antipodean bias of the material, I believe they have a lot to contribute whatever your sporting preferences. Please feel free to use them for any teaching-related purpose if you think they will be helpful in your courses, and feel free to let me know any further analogous ideas you have – I am planning a second sports series, plus another on the Motion Picture industry. Happy teaching!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Interactive teaching session at the Westerns

At the Westerns, I was part of a session on interactive teaching titled, “Flipping, Clicking and Other Contortions to Make Your Classes More Interactive”. Unfortunately, one of the participants, the one who was specifically going to talk about flipping his class, was struck with flight problems and couldn’t make it. However, he was kind enough to make a video of his presentation that we could show during the session. If anyone is interested, Steven also put the video (broken into two parts) onto YouTube, here and here. I also tried to record the other three presentations using Camtasia but there are problems with the sound (Steven’s video was actually running in the background and although the sound was muted at the time, Camtasia recorded Steven’s voice with the other presentations). So rather than posting the videos, here are (links to) the slides:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Release your inner blogger!

I started this blog as a way to think through what I’m doing with my classes. At the time, I had no idea what would happen, if I’d stick with it, if anyone would read what I wrote. Although my writing ebbs and flows, I think blogging has been incredibly useful and has undoubtedly helped me improve as a teacher. I talked about some of those benefits in a session at the 2012 ASSA meetings, summarized in my post “Why I blog about teaching (and you should too!)”. If you’ve ever thought about getting into this blogging thing, Lee Skallerup Bessette, who blogs on InsideHigherEd, will be doing a free webinar, An Introduction to Academic Blogging, July 10, 2013 (starting at 10am, PST – the website doesn’t say how long it will last). And if you want to start with a few guest posts here, just let me know!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Econ Ed at the Westerns

I’m about to get on a plane for Seattle where my session on Saturday, 4:30pm, looks to be one of only two sessions related to teaching. If anyone is attending, please come by!

[101] Saturday, June 29, 4:30 – 6:15pmFlipping, Clicking and Other Contortions to Make Your Classes More Interactive (panel)
Jennifer Imazeki, San Diego State University
Mary Flannery, University of Notre Dame
Brandon Sheridan, North Central College
Steven Slezak, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

[169] Sunday, June 30, 4:30-6:15pm
Teaching Economics

Chair: Mark Holmgren, Eastern Washington University
Papers: Mark Holmgren, Eastern Washington University, Do Giffen Goods Exist in Academic Learning?Susan Jacobson, Regis College, Beyond Content: What Should We Be Doing in Our Classrooms?
Paul Johnson, University of Alaska, Anchorage, and Jonathan Alevy, University of Alaska, Anchorage, A Classroom Financial Market Experiment
Mark Leonard, American University in Bulgaria, The Use of a Random Element in an Upper-level Undergraduate Course

Friday, June 7, 2013

A possible new direction…

Some folks may have noticed that my posting is pretty sporadic. I was just looking at my stats and when I first started this blog (can’t believe it’s been five years!), I posted roughly every few days during the first year. Then it slowed down to about once a week. For the last several months, it’s been closer to once every few weeks, and some of those have been more public service announcements than me really writing about anything I’m personally doing with my teaching. This pattern is partly a reflection of what’s been happening with my classes – one reason I started this blog was as a place to ‘think aloud’ about what I was doing with some courses that were new to me and I was trying all kinds of random stuff, so it’s probably natural that over time, as I’ve honed what I’m doing, I haven’t felt the same need to write about them. It’s also a reflection of what’s been happening with me emotionally with regard to teaching – I’m definitely feeling burnt out. There is a reason that teachers need sabbaticals and I’m very excited about mine (I’ll be off this next academic year). The more drained I have felt about teaching in general, the less motivated I have felt to write anything for the blog.

One of the things I plan to do during my sabbatical is figure out what to do with this blog going forward. I’d like to say that I’ll commit to posting more regularly – and I’ll certainly be working on teaching stuff during my sabbatical that I could write about – but I also feel like maybe I need a bit of a sabbatical from blogging as well so I can get re-invigorated about it. At the same time, one of the things I really enjoy about blogging is that it makes me feel more connected to a community of people who really care about teaching. I know there are a lot of folks who ‘lurk’ and even if you never comment or otherwise let me know you’re out there, the fact that you have bothered to subscribe, ‘like’ or just drop by the blog once in a while means a lot to me and I don’t want to let that community down.

However, somewhat ironically, I think that feeling (of not wanting to let down this community) is actually contributing to my ambivalence about blogging. That is, this blog originally started out largely as a ‘personal’ blog – it was simply a place for me to get my thoughts out about a range of topics related to teaching. I had no idea who, if anyone, was going to read what I wrote and in a lot of ways, it didn’t matter: the process of writing itself often helps me think things through, whether I get feedback from others or not. But over time, I’ve found myself worrying more about what will be useful for readers than what is useful for me. I think twice (or three or four times) before just shooting off some random thought and while I know I’m over-thinking it (gee, me? over-think things?), the reality is that I simply end up not posting as often.

So, I have a proposition for you folks. Although I feel like I don’t have as much to say as I used to about what I’m doing in the classroom, I know plenty of YOU are doing cool and innovative things. If you would like to write a guest post about something you are doing, please let me know. It could be that you have a unique way to teach a particular concept, a different approach to grading, a particularly effective assignment, etc. It doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, just something other teachers might find useful. Send me an email, give me an idea of what you want to write about and we can discuss format and all that. I won’t promise that I’ll post anything and everything but if you read this blog regularly, chances are pretty good that you are doing something in your classroom that other readers will be interested in hearing about. I’m also going to reach out to some folks who presented at the AEA Conference on Teaching and Research on Economic Education last week (which sadly, I missed) and see if they would be willing to summarize their papers [NOTE: This is an invitation to individual teachers to share their personal experiences; I will not post anything from a business or organization that is trying to sell something or promote themselves].

Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere, and I still think of this as more of a personal blog. I’m just hoping that with these guest posts providing more of the tangible ‘hands-on’ type information that I think a lot of people will find useful, I will feel more freedom to muse and ramble about other random stuff. Would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More conferences

The 9th Annual Economics Teaching Conference (sponsored by the National Economics Teaching Association and Cengage Learning) will be in Austin on October 24 and 25. The call for papers is here, and there is an 'extra early bird' discount if you register by May 31.

You can also try for a free trip to the conference by competing for Cengage's Second Annual Economist Educator Best in Class Award. Submissions are due by July 8.

And the National Association of Economic Educators has a Call for Papers out for the 2014 ASSA meetings:

The National Association of Economic Educators and the Council on Economic Education will conduct three sessions at the January 2014 meetings of the Allied Social Science Associations (ASSA) and American Economic Association (AEA) annual meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania January 3-5, 2014.

New research papers on any relevant topic in economic education will be considered. Those interested in presenting a paper should send an abstract or complete paper, no later than May 24, 2013, to:

Dr. Andrew Hill, Chair
NAEE Research Commitee
c/o Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
10 Independence Mall
Philadelphia, PA, 19106.

Alternatively, papers and/or expressions of interest in serving as a discussant may be sent via email to: Andrew.Hill@phil.frb.org.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Why it can be good to date a non-economist

The other night, Joey and I were walking to our favorite neighborhood brewpub for dinner. I saw what looked like a twenty dollar bill on the ground and I swear to God, my first thought was, "That can't actually be a twenty." I'm not sure I would have actually kept walking if I were alone but Joey did not even hesitate - he pointed at the money, said, "whoa!", and picked up what turned out to be TWO twenties. Honestly, I still couldn't quite believe they were just lying there, like maybe they were counterfeit, or someone had planted them and was just waiting to see what we would do. I had to explain the joke to Joey (who is a computer engineer) and he just said, "Well, good thing I'm not an economist, isn't it?" Amen to that...

Friday, March 29, 2013

Grading followup

I mentioned at the start of the semester that I'd be trying a different approach to grading in the writing class this spring. I've finished grading the second big writing assignment and I have to say that although grading is taking just as long as it used to, I definitely notice a reduction in my level of stress about the process. There are two main things that I've changed: one, I am only assigning straight letter grades for papers (i.e., A, B, C or D, recorded as 4, 3, 2 or 1 in the Blackboard gradebook) and two, students are allowed to revise and re-submit papers as many times as they want, any time up until the last day of class, and I will use whatever grade they receive last (which will presumably be higher than where they started but only if they actually do the work).

Giving straight letter grades has greatly reduced my angst about assigning the score for the overall assignment. For the most part, it's pretty easy to tell B papers from C papers but what I really love is that I DON'T have to spend time trying to figure out if a B paper should get an 84, 85 or 86, and making sure whatever number I give one paper is consistent with the numbers I gave on other papers. I do note informally if I think there really should be a plus or minus attached, and that may come into play at the end of the semester but again, noting that a paper is a B+ is much easier than trying to decide if it's an 88 or an 89. So far, there have been two papers I just couldn't bring myself to give an A but they really were better than most B papers so I gave them a 3.5.

But even more than the straight letter grades, I think giving students the option to revise their papers is really what is making the biggest difference in my grading attitude. In the past, I would always have this internal struggle with myself about the comments I gave on papers. On the one hand, I want to give students specific and detailed comments so that they can see how to make their writing better. On the other hand, I know that many students will not even look at the comments (they just look at the grade) so why spend all that time? But by giving students the option to revise their papers for a higher grade, I free myself from making detailed suggestions about how to change things AND I feel like students may actually use the feedback I give them. Not giving detailed suggestions doesn't mean I don't give feedback - it means that now I am much more specific about WHY something is not working, but I don't necessarily give students an exact fix. For example, in the past, if a particular sentence were not clear, I would leave a comment like, "This isn't clear - it would work better if you re-wrote this as 'the higher prices cause demand to fall' instead". That is, my explanation of the problem would be a bit vague ('this is unclear', 'this jargon isn't appropriate', etc.) but I would try to give them a specific suggestion for a re-write that, by comparison, would make the problem more obvious and also help them see a way to fix things. But now, my explanation of the problem tends to be much more detailed (e.g., 'this sentence isn't clear because it sounds like demand falling is causing prices to go up instead of the other way around') but I do not give them a specific edit they can use to fix the problem, since I don't want them to just replace their words with mine and turn that in as a new revision. I do try to point them to other sources for specific help when possible (e.g., 'See the class notes about making sentences more direct'). This approach doesn't necessarily save me much time (though it is generally easier to tell them exactly what the problem is than to fix it for them) but I definitely notice a difference in my own attitude. That is, IF they decide to do a revision, I feel like I'm actually helping them but not doing the work for them, and if they don't do a revision, then I'm not "wasting" my time either.

In addition, I worry less if the grade I give them seems a little harsh (e.g., someone gets a straight B who would have gotten a B+ in the past) because they do have the option to do a little work and get a better grade. So i expect that I won't be getting any whining about grades.

So far, only one student has actually done a revision, though I expect at least a few others will be working on their papers over Spring Break...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Call for Papers, Intl Atlantic Economic Conference

If you aren't on the tch-econ mail list, you might have missed this: Paul Hettler is putting together one or two special sessions on the use of active learning strategies in economics. Paul notes: "This is the seventh year I've created such sessions. In the past, we've seen some very interesting presentations on the use of several different strategies in principles through upper-level courses. If you are using an interesting learning strategy, others would like to hear about it. Please consider sending a brief abstract of what you are doing in for this session (Note, there are no submission fees if you send the abstract directly to me). The session will be rather informal--if you have a formal analysis comparing the learning outcomes of some active strategy to 'lectures' that's great; if you just want to describe the technique you're using and provide anecdotal evidence of it's effectiveness that is good too. In all cases, the idea is to learn more about alternative ways to get our students more involved in the learning process."

Special Conference Session
Active Learning Strategies in Economics

at the
76th International Atlantic Economic Conference
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
October 10-13, 2013

Numerous “active” learning strategies have been developed over the past 30 years to engage students more in the process of learning. Are you using techniques such as Team-Based Learning, Classroom Experiments, Simulations, Problem-Based Learning, Case Studies, etc. in your classes? Share your experiences and compare outcomes with others engaged in similar efforts. Papers for this special conference session can focus on describing the technique and how it is implemented, student or faculty reactions, or documented learning outcomes.

To be considered for the session, please send a 500-word abstract describing the active learning project you wish to present at the conference. Paper submission fees will be waived for participants in this session. (Conference registration fees will be required. Please see the Society web site at http://www.iaes.org for more information). To be considered, the abstract must be received by May 14, 2013.

Abstracts may be sent by email to: hettler@calu.edu

Or by mail to:
Dr. Paul Hettler
Department of Business and Economics (Box 74)
California University of Pennsylvania
250 University Ave
California, PA 15419

Call (724-938-5730) or email (hettler@calu.edu) with any questions.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Intended consequences: HEOA edition

As an economist, I know that policies often have unintended consequences. As an ed policy researcher, I know that the unintended consequences of many education policies arise because a) policymakers generally have no idea what a teacher's job is actually like and b) local implementation of state and federal policies often focuses more on 'compliance' than 'educational quality'. I was reminded of both these problems when I received an email from our administration about Section 133 of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which deals with textbook information. Apparently, this federal law requires that students have access to information on course materials prior to registration. This, in and of itself, seems benign. I think the prices that students pay for textbooks and associated materials are often outrageous and letting students know what they're signing up for is good (pointless, but good, since I can't imagine any student chooses classes based on textbook prices, but I tend to fall in the 'more information is always good' camp). But faculty are being asked to submit our materials requisitions FOR FALL SEMESTER by the end of March. The email I received implied that failure to adhere to this deadline will put us out of compliance with HEOA, putting our students "at risk for an estimated $51 million in Federal student assistance."

So, faculty can either decide NOW, in the middle of spring semester, what books and materials we will use in the FALL, or be made to feel like we could be responsible for students losing tons of Federal aid. So what's the most likely outcome? If I'm teaching a course I've taught before, I just use the same books as last time, even if there are other books that might be better, since I'm not going to have time to think about it before summer (the requisition deadline isn't even after Spring Break). I don't know about others but I have generally used summer to re-vamp classes, including deciding on different books and materials. Sure, I can still restructure some lectures and activities but if I've already committed to the reading materials, there's only so much I can do with the course as a whole. And if I've already committed to the reading materials, why spend much time looking at new materials (which might help me keep my course current or at least give me ideas of new ways to present content) and re-thinking the course in general? I'll just make a few tweaks and keep mostly doing what I did last time.

I realize this isn't that huge a deal - I know that if I wait a couple months to get my book order in, the Feds are not going to come swarming onto campus and cut off all financial aid. What bugs me is that no one in the administration seems to recognize that there may be very good reasons for faculty to wait until summer to get their book orders in. So I can either do what I consider 'good teaching' (i.e., reflect on what has worked and what needs changing in my course) and piss off my administration; or I can 'comply with the law' and just muddle along. These are annoying bad choices...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Trying something different with grading

As I gear up for teaching the writing class again this spring, I've been thinking a lot about how to make the grading more tolerable. In a Profhacker post last September, Brian Croxall summed up my own feeling about grading pretty well:
"The thing that I dislike most about teaching is grading... The reason I typically don’t like grading is because my grading sessions often leave me feeling conflicted about the final scores I give students. “Is this essay an 87 (AKA a B)? Or is it an 88? How does it compare to that 84 I just read?” For personal reasons, my internal fairness meter gets really worked up by this process, and I have found that grading papers produces a bathetic (and pathetic) amount of handwringing on my part that is not productive in any which way."
Croxall goes on to say that he planned to try using only straight letter grades on papers (i.e., A, B, etc. with no pluses or minuses):
"...while it might be hard to know the difference between an 87 and an 88, or sometimes even between the dreaded B+/A- split, I absolutely do know the difference between an A and a B paper. I expect to see a sharp drop in the amount of stress that I feel as I grade the four essays I’m assigning this semester."
According to his recent follow-up post, this approach did, indeed, make grading easier. In addition, instead of students fixating on the grades, there was more focus on how to actually improve their writing. In the comments on that post, Croxall mentions that he does use detailed rubrics so students have a good idea of where each letter grade comes from.

My two big problems with grading in the writing class are 1) deciding what numeric score to give on papers (the same issue Croxall was dealing with) and 2) how to grade 'participation' when there are numerous assignments that don't have a 'right' answer but that I want students to complete on time and take seriously (like peer reviews and reflections on their own writing). I have toyed with the idea of contract grading before but couldn't quite bring myself to go that far. Reading the comments on both of Croxall's posts, as well as another Profhacker post on Grading: Letters or Numbers, got me thinking and I finally decided to try the following set-up this spring: Papers will be graded on a straight letter-grade basis but everything else will be graded out of either one or two points. Homework and in-class assignments that I simply want students to make a good-faith effort to DO will be graded on a scale of one point (done) or zero (not done) for each item on the assignment (so a handout with six questions will be worth six points - this is so I don't have to deal with things like half-points if a student only does half the questions and the only way a student gets a complete zero is to not do the assignment at all). Pre-writing, peer review and evaluation assignments (where students must answer some questions reflecting on their papers as well as evaluating the peer reviews they received) will be graded out of two possible points (again for each item) where a two is 'fulfills assignment with exceptional skill or effort', a one is 'meets basic requirements' and zero is 'not completed'. Then at the end of the semester, the criteria for final grades will be based on 1) grades on papers (on a traditional GPA-like 4-point scale), 2) total points, and 3) number of completed assignments according to the cut-offs in the table:

I haven't completely solidified all of the questions for all of the assignments for the whole semester yet so to leave myself some room for tweaking, I didn't try to figure out the exact number of points that correspond to each grade. But if a student does the bare minimum, i.e., doing everything but only getting 1s on every possible item on every assignment, and they are only writing at a C level, then they get a C. To get a B, students must be writing at a B level, AND have completed at least a third of the assignments at a level above 'meets basic requirements', etc. Pluses and minuses will depend on where students fall in each of the categories (I'm still trying to figure out exactly what those rules will look like).

I expect this will reduce at least some of my stress about actually grading - as Croxall put it, I can generally tell the difference between an A paper and a B paper (or a thoughtful review versus one that is just 'fine'). But I have no idea how this is going to go over with students. In some ways, I think it will be fine, since students seem to like when they can count up points and map that directly to a particular grade. But this mapping isn't your standard "90% is an A, 80% for a B, etc." so I anticipate some confusion about that.

Has anyone out there done anything similar? Would love to hear about your experience in the comments!