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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.

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