People vary a lot in the quantity and quality of email they receive. Depending on the time of year, I get between fifty and a few hundred messages per day. Some of it requires a timely response and some is reference material that I want or need to read eventually. Some mail can be quickly read and addressed, while other messages require a fair bit of time and effort. I’ve battled my mail with a range of strategies over the years, but have recently found a combination that work pretty well. I share them here in hopes of helping others move toward email sanity.
This episode is extra-special as we’re joined not by any faculty, but instead by Maia Eliscovich-Sigal and Miguel Goncalves. Maia is a senior economics major here at Yale and Miguel is a senior global affairs major. They give us the students’ perspective on their classes and tell us what they find works and doesn’t work when professors lecture, organize discussions, and use technology.
I think clickers are a great way to get students actively engaged in a lecture class, and a pretty good way to learn whether students are learning what you’re teaching so you can do something about it immediately. This semester I wanted use them for a third purpose: Collect high quality data on who attended which lectures. It was a total failure.
On a recent episode of the Teach Better Podcast, Boris Kapustin told me that he hates the word fun. I actually understand where he’s coming from. What we teach is important and we both want our students to work hard and take it seriously. At the same time, I firmly believe fun can induce hard work and serious learning. That was the idea behind the end-of-semester poster session I organized last night for my econometrics class. It was full of fun, exchange of ideas, and absolutely it was the result of hard work on everyone’s part.
Lecture capture is a relatively new technology that allows fully automated recording of classes. It usually involves a camera at the back of the classroom, a microphone on the professor’s lapel, and equipment that records what happens on the screen. The combined audio and video is then made available to students soon after the end of each lecture. I’m a big fan and have been using it for all my classes for more than two years now. My students love it, but it’s very hard to assess its causal impact on either attendance or performance.
The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning is moving into a new home next year, and they are hard at work designing it. One of my favorite elements will be a set of several classrooms outfitted with the latest teaching technology that faculty can use to experiment. Just the other day Ed Kairiss asked for my thoughts on what should go into these new “learning spaces.” Here’s what I suggested:
Gerald Jaynes, Professor of Economics and African American Studies, has been teaching fearlessly at Yale for more than 30 years. He currently teaches popular courses in the Economics of Discrimination, Poverty under Postindustrial Capitalism, and Social Science of the Black Community, and is always experimenting with new ideas in the classroom.
The first thing I do after every one of my lectures is write what I call a post-mortem. it’s just a little text file that captures what worked that day, what didn’t, and any ideas I have for improvement next time. It sits right next to my PowerPoint slides and the notes that guided me through those slides.
Last fall I spent a fair bit of time analyzing the determinants of midterm performance (e.g., attendance and video lecture watching) in my big econometrics class. It was difficult to interpret many of the results because of the classic correlation does not equal causation problem. For example, I really wanted to know how time spent studying affected scores, and found that reported hours spent studying was negatively correlated with scores. I think it is unlikely that the causal effect of an additional hour of studying is negative and it is much more likely that the students having the most trouble with the material were the ones who studied the most. And then there’s the fact that quality of studying matters at least as much as quanitity.