Friday, June 01, 2012

Coordination Failure in Coordination Games/Micro-Lectures for Economics

This post follows two distinct things I've been worrying about as of late.  The first is what I've been reading about in the (not so) funny papers, regarding what is going on in Europe on an economics front and the related issue of whether in response there should be austerity or Keynesian pump priming.  Paul Krugman has a good analysis on this today, in my opinion.  And yet I believe that those educated enough to have taken a course on Principles of Microeconomics might nonetheless not understand what Krugman argues.  Doesn't the "Invisible Hand" (or the First Fundamental Welfare Theorem) say that markets work?  If so, what is wrong with making the argument that Government should get out of the way and instead let the markets solve the problems (which is what those who are for austerity tend to argue)?

That there is a conceptual flaw with the argument requires a different framework than the usual Supply and Demand (or Edgeworth Box) to make the case.  One candidate framework, still simple so that most anyone can get the point in a hurry, but subtle enough to demonstrate that coordination problems are possible, are bi-matrix games that have multiple equilibria, where the equilbria can be Pareto ranked (that means where the players preferences concur on which is the preferred equilibrium).  In that setting the idea is that when there is strategic risk it can trump social efficiency in determining which outcome is likely to prevail.  The strategic risk aspect is simply absent in the thinking of those who argue for austerity.  It needs to be acknowledged.   Once it has agreed upon, then coordination failure becomes a distinct possibility.  The Keynesian approach attempts to address the coordination failure.  The austerity approach exacerbates it.

I've written up a little PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the issues in the coordination game and made a short movie in YouTube that gives a voice over annotation of that presentation, a micro-lecture if you will.  This gets me to the second thing I've been worrying about - how to teach my class this fall.  Last semester I taught it as a seminar, because enrollments were quite low.  The department wants me to teach it as a lecture irrespective of the enrollments and do so in future iterations of the course as well, hoping that enrollments will likewise pick up.

One of the issues with that is how to handle the math modeling that is part of the subject matter.  Last semester I simply soft pedaled the math.  This time around, my intent is to do something similar to what I did in the late 1990s.  Do online presentations in PowerPoint with voice over, have assessments linked to those, and in the live session run something like a TA session where related problems are worked.  Emphasize that some of these problems will be on the test, so understanding how to do them is critical.  This is pretty old school in approach.  But it seems like what the department wants.  The only difference I see here is that I will do micro-lectures that are briefer and more focused, rather than one big PowerPoint to cover the entire lecture, and I will deliberately use Excel for assessment to try to make that richer.  I'm not showing such an Excel assessment in this post.  When I've generated some I'll make a subsequent post about that.   The movie linked above is supposed to emblematic of the micro-lecture.

With this as the way to handle the math, the rest of the time I can take a narrative approach as I did with the seminar last semester.  With the narrative part my goal is to have a bit of in class lecture and then try to have discussion around the issues.   Then I will try to mix and match the narrative approach with the math, perhaps by making Tuesday problem solving day and Thursday narrative/discussion day.  We'll see.

I'm aware that the micro-lectures are kind of flat, so one issue is whether students will watch them.  On the extrinsic motivation front, it would seem key that doing the assessments requires watching the videos first.   An alternative is to consider the videos as a resource for those students who want them, but not a requirement otherwise.  I suspect I will get some request to deliver the micro-lecture content in the live class session, during the TA part.  In so doing the students will show that they want the micro-lectures but aren't willing to put in the out-of-class time to get them.  I will try to resist acceding to such requests.

There is a related issue on how much work my class will entail for students relative to the workload they have in the other classes they take.  My sense is that it is appropriate to demand more from them than what they are used to.  We'll see how that goes as well.

I don't think micro-lectures are appropriate for narrative content.  Personally, I'm more convincing writing an essay than I am giving a lecture on a subject, since on the latter I don't like to go by a script and sometimes the forethought I've gone through gets omitted when I wing it.  The essays are usually well thought through, and the argument given is coherent.   But it is different doing that with the math.  Then you have to reason it through and I believe talking aloud through that has value above and beyond writing it out.  The only issue I can see is whether having canned PowerPoint can substitute for "writing it out" longhand, both equations and diagrams when doing the voice annotation.

I have pretty bad hand writing and I haven't practiced hand drawn graphs for a while, so I'm going with the canned approach, in good part because of these limitations.  (Also, I no longer have a Tablet PC at my disposal and while I'm aware there is software now for the iPad to do inking there with a stylus, I'm less sure screen movies will work okay in that environment.)   This is my first stab, at doing such a micro-lecture.  For the equation part I've adopted an approach to chunk the content, white out that part which has not yet been covered and isn't the current focus, and gray out the part that has already been covered.  For the diagrams I've not done this.  Perhaps I need to for future presentations.  I've been using Excel for the diagrams and in this case I already had them constructed from other things I've done so I didn't bother with that sort of chunking in the diagrams.

Technically, I'm recording a slideshow in full screen and doing voice over using Snagit.  My home computer has a 16:9 aspect ratio.  I found this useful presentation about how to make the PowerPoint itself into 16:9 aspect ratio.  Doing this means that when you go to slideshow mode there won't be any distortion in the way the presentation looks.  That's a plus.  I'm afraid that if your monitor is in 4:3 aspect ratio, then you can't produce a 16:9 result with a full screen capture, so you must do what I used to do and capture a region that is 16:9 (and thus not use slideshow mode).  In that past I've been wary about full screen captures ending up blurry.  So I was pretty spartan with the content in my slides.  There is a lot of white background.  Perhaps YouTube has gotten better in this respect.  I don't know.  But at least in terms of image quality the result is quite good. The image is sharp even in full screen.  Snagit is a nice product.  It does pretty much what I want.  Since I used to rely on Jing Pro, I'm glad there something with a similar ease of use and functionality in product delivery.  It would be nice if there were a way to pause the recording when in slideshow mode.  One can readily do that with a screen region capture.  Sometimes its useful to stop for a few moments and collect your thoughts about the rest of the presentation.  If there is such a functionality in Snagit, I've yet to learn about it.  If there isn't, I hope TechSmith can put it there in the future.

Let me close with one last point.  There is nothing slick or glitzy in this presentation.  That is my preference.  It helps to convey that I made these.  They aren't generated elsewhere.  I'd be willing to use presentations from colleagues produced in a similar manner to mine and I'd like to see some exchange process occur for that.  Getting their perspective would be valuable and sharing in this manner would make for a community approach to the subject matter, something to be aspired to.  I'd be much less inclined to use one from a publisher where I've got no personal connection to the person making the presentation.  That would make me the servant and the publisher provided content the master. That's not the way I like to teach.

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