Monday, November 14, 2005

My course next semester

Next semester I’m teaching economic principles to 15 campus honors students (these are our best students) and beginning to get set up for the course. The course is aimed at freshmen, but the last time most of them had sophomore standing (and one had junior standing) because they had so much AP credit. I was given some very good advice the last time to conduct the course as a seminar but remember these are undergrads. The last time what I came up with fit that and it was a good course.

So one of the big questions for me is how much I tweak and how much I keep as is. The other big question for me is in my own thinking how much of this is about the style to learn the economics and how much of it is to exploit the technology to improve learning. Some of the bigger innovations I had the last time that I plan to keep are no textbook but rather other readings, an expectation that they will learn about core economic ideas via large projects that focus on particular issues rather than a lot of smaller assignments, and having each project team do in class presentations – book reports on the readings. None of these are fundamentally ideas driven by the technology, but they are all enabled by it.

I’m finding in my own thinking I’m more concerned about being clever on the economics than with the technology, and that is where I’d like to innovate where I can. Part of this is on the assignments and choice of readings. Another part is on numerical simulations. I think I can show students some pretty sophisticated economics in this freshman course, something one wouldn’t do otherwise, by using numerical simulation in Excel, so the students don’t have to “solve the model” which would be over their head but simply see the consequences of their choices in the simulation.

The other part of my thinking is on how the course can make a lasting impression on the students. Two years ago when I taught the course for the first time, I know it had this effect on some of them. But I also know I took advantage of Hawthorne effects big time. Now some of the novelty has been lost and the question is whether the sense of inventiveness can be maintained. One big metric of success, then, is what they read after my course as a consequence of taking the course. Another is whether they think fondly about it in retrospect.

Still another question I’m asking myself - this course will have a lot of in class discussion; I will not lecture much if at all – what online technology works here. Last time the first project had them make content surveys using Respondus. The beauty of that is that those surveys were administered to other students in the class after they were submitted and then based on the responses of the others we’d have discussion about the topic in the survey. I found those interesting as a good way to get some “layering” on the thinking as I would use the surveys and the student responses as a launch point to talk about something a little deeper in the subject.

This worked for me teaching-wise, but I’m not sure the approach will transfer to other instructors. Small class instructors might not otherwise do content surveys at all. They might prefer using a Wiki to get similar interaction (though I don’t understand how they’d achieve the layering effect). Alternatively, large class instructors might find my approach too daunting as administering student created surveys to other students might be unwieldy. So I’m scratching my head on whether I should be going for practices that likely transfer to others or focus on what I think will work best in this setting.

Periodically, I will comment on my teaching in this blog. If you want to take a look see at what I’ve got so far, that is the syllabus and a course blog.


Burks said...

Lanny - Nice to see you are using RSS to distribute the course material through your blog.

Do you intend to do any podcasts for this class? More importantly, do you intend to have your students do any podcasts?

-- Burks

Lanny Arvan said...

Burks - I expect to do some screencasts as mini lectures on some topics and then straight audio for some weekly review of the class. At the time I will use the medium that seems most appropriate to me.

The students will be given the opporunity (but not the requirement) to do similarly for their "book report" projects.