Podcast Episode 8: Teaching Economics Effectively With Larry Samuelson

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Larry Samuelson is an accomplished economic theorist, and at the same time is one of the best instructors in the Yale Economics Department. He teaches microeconomic theory to the first year PhD students as well as Intermediate Microeconomics, a required class in the major that forms the foundation of almost every advanced undergraduate class in economics. In this episode Larry tells us how he challenges and engages his students.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:40 Welcoming Larry and reading some of his student evals

2:52 About Intermediate Microeconomics: the 150 students, the material

5:51 Using economic reasoning and models; Thinking in terms of optimization problems

7:00 Competence, proficiency, and mastery; Worked examples, published papers, seeing connections, and thinking in models

8:56 Asking students to reflect critically

10:20 Economics and its use of models

11:51 Some students think of Intermediate Micro as ‘Intro with gratuitous math’

15:32 Teach basic techniques and models, and then apply them again and again in new contexts

17:18 Recognizing familiar problems and making it stick; Math alone doesn’t mean success.

20:30 “What’s interesting about economics?” The unifying vision, its simplicity, power, and breadth

23:32 Organizing the problem sets: theory and application; Convincing the students of the discipline’s utility; “I want them to see something fresh….”

26:16 The students spend more time on the problem sets than on the lectures. Sometimes students see the lecture as the ‘real learning.’

28:15 A lecture that is merely observed is not a success. What makes a good live lecture?

32:22 “How should I study for this class?” Students working in groups

34:26 Using Piazza and answering student email

38:05 Teaching a difficult class–for stronger and weaker students

40:56 Larry has published 16 articles in top journals in the last four years. How does he do it? Sleeping an ordinary amount. Using small slices of time productively.

44:44 Using your research in your teaching; Communicating effectively as a core research skill; Proving vs. persuading

49:23 Having the right model and doing the right thing once you have it: The first is harder than the second.

50:22 Incentives to teach well; In praise of the craft of teaching

54:32 Two keys to effective teaching: 1. Be organized. 2. Care

56:02 Do everything you can to avoid sending your students on an endless algebra hunt.

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