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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Useful links (self-promotion edition!)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Using media clips for in-class assignments

In my last post, I walked through how I make videos to go with songs that I play as students enter class. A lot of times, I just play the songs/videos and then proceed with class; the songs are really just a way to get students thinking about how economics relates to many aspects of their lives that they may not be aware of (plus, the end of the music signals to students that class is about to start, which was a particularly big help when I was teaching the 500-seat section).

But songs (and movie or TV clips) can also be useful springboards for in-class assignments. All of the resources out there that have suggestions for media clips in economics (like Music for EconMovies for Econ, or The Economics of Seinfeld) will identify which economic concepts the clips address and have at least a short summary of what’s in the clip. A couple (ABBA to Zeppelin and Dirk’s site) also provide some specific follow-up questions that instructors could use in class. I thought it might be helpful for people to see specifically how I integrate media clips into my classes with those types of questions.

I’ve written up one example already for the Starting Point module on interactive lectures. In that one, students watch a clip from the Colbert Report that deals with externalities in the market for cashmere and then I ask them to draw the graph for that market, showing the external costs and identifying the private and social equilibria. In the 500-seat class, students responded to clicker questions about their graphs; in smaller classes, you could actually collect the graphs and grade them directly, or have students get into small groups to assess each other’s work.

In another example, I use the song “Big Yellow Taxi” to discuss cost-benefit analysis. I created the following video for the song (using the Counting Crows cover since I’m pretty sure my students have never heard the original!):

(note: if you watch the whole thing, you'll notice it goes on for a while at the end - I usually manually fade it out in class)
Most of the time, I play the video as students are coming into class on the day after we have discussed marginal versus sunk costs (so they are already familiar with the basic definitions). I then start the class by handing out a sheet with the full lyrics and have them answer some questions (most of which are also asked in the video), identifying the costs in the song. For classes where students are working in teams, they answer the questions on a team worksheet (you can see the specific worksheet I use here); in a larger class or without teams, you could ask the questions using clickers or with a think-pair-share approach.

Even if you just use songs or film/TV clips as simple examples to spice up your lecture, they are typically much more engaging for students than talking about corn and wheat, but if you can get them to do something with the content from those clips, it can be even more effective.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How to make a music video in PowerPoint

Many readers of this blog are familiar with the idea of having music playing as students come into class each day. Just browsing through sites like ABBA to Zeppelin or Dirk Mateer’s media library will give you tons of ideas for songs with lyrics that relate to economic concepts. But for many of those songs, the economic references might be a little obscure. Sure, if you’re playing a song with the word “Money” in the title, students are going to get that there’s some sort of connection to economics but when you play a song like “Big Yellow Taxi” or “Soak Up the Sun”, chances are they’ll think you’re just playing random music and not realize it has anything to do with what they are learning.

One way to make the connection clear is to use videos/animations that spell it out. This is why I’m a huge fan of Brian O’Roark’s Music for Econ videos. He created a bunch of flash files that show the lyrics for each song and also have images and text that highlight the economic concepts. When I was teaching Principles, I used those animated songs whenever I could because they were so much more engaging for students than just the music alone.

The only problem is that there weren’t videos for all of the topics/classes where I wanted to use them. There are also some songs where the topics that are highlighted in the videos weren’t the ones I needed (e.g., I don’t teach macro so I couldn’t use any of the videos that focused on macro concepts, even if there were also some relevant micro concepts in there).

What I really wanted was to make my own animations but I have no skills with flash or any other software that seemed appropriate – until I realized that I could do it in PowerPoint! Basically, I made a slideshow in PowerPoint, using Custom Animations to make different text appear on each slide, and then saved the whole thing as a standalone video/PowerPoint Show file that can be run on its own. By doing it myself, I could highlight exactly the concepts that my students were learning that day and make sure that they were presented in a way that was consistent with my lectures.

For anyone who is interested, here is how to do it:
  1. Create the slides you want to go with the song. Mine typically include relevant lyrics plus images and then text or questions that highlight the economic concepts.
  2. Insert the music file (presumably an mp3 file) in the first slide and set it to start automatically. You will also need to change the options so that the song does not stop when you change slides (in PowerPoint 2007, I just set it so that it stops after X slides, where X is the total number of slides in the deck; in PowerPoint 2010, you can choose "Play across slides" under Audio Options). 
  3. Under the Slide Show tab, click “Rehearse Timings”. A toolbar should appear with a timer and some navigation buttons (I don’t use those) and your slideshow will start. Navigate through your slides in time with the music. At the end, you should be asked if you want to keep the recorded timings.
  4. If you are using PowerPoint 2007 or earlier, you can Save As a PowerPoint Show (*.pps). When that file is opened, it should start running automatically (just be sure that you don’t click on it once it has started because that will advance the slides and the timings will be off). One thing to note is that the mp3 song file must be in the same folder as the pps file; if not, the slideshow will still run but there won’t be any music. If you are using the 2010 version of PowerPoint, you can save as a video file, which can then be posted online more easily.
Here is an example of one I made for “If I Had A Million Dollars” by the Barenaked Ladies. O’Roark’s version has stuff about inflation that wouldn’t fit with my micro course so I made one that focuses more on trade-offs and includes a PPF:

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Useful links

  • Last month, I had a conversation with James Tierney for his Teach Me Econ podcast series. We ended up talking for over an hour so he broke it up into two parts and the first one is now posted. In this one, we talk a lot about economics at the K-12 level.
  • The Council for Economic Education has a neat site, This Day in Economic History, that provides information on past events related to economics and personal finance (with related lesson plans for high school and Principles-level classes). Example: For February 6, 1919: "A five day strike involving around 60,000 Seattle union laborers, which basically shutdown the city, comes to a long awaited end."
  • The AEA has posted webcasts of several sessions from the January meetings. They are a bit long but could be good discussion starters in any macro class.
  • Antony Davies has a series of short videos covering a wide range of topics. These are ‘talking head’ lectures (i.e., just a video of a typical lecture) but focused and short so they could be a useful tool for students who want an alternative to a textbook or just another way of getting this information.
  • When we teach price floors and ceilings, most instructors point out that these controls have no impact if they are set below (for floors) or above (for ceilings) the equilibrium price. Now England has provided an excellent example to make this point, setting a price floor for alcohol that is so low it will likely have no effect (though you may need to convert from pounds to dollars for U.S. students to understand the numbers).