Between my daughters’ school cancellations, their getting sick, and spending the weekend sick as a dog myself, it’s been a tough last couple weeks. Work has suffered, but not by as much as it could have. Three things have been getting me through the rough patches: technology, fun, and most of all, my students.
I often listen to podcasts after my kids go to bed as I putter around the house washing dishes or doing laundry. Some are about technology (ATP and The Talk Show) or sports (The BS Report) or science (Star Talk) and some cut across categories (The Nerdist). Over time, you build a “relationship” with hosts of a good show and look forward to hearing them say interesting things and talk with interesting guests.
I take great pride in being able to synchronize the different pieces of a long class, adjust on the fly, and come into the finish line exactly on time. Last year I failed more often than I succeeded when teaching my advanced economics seminar on human capital in Latin America, and this semester was (is) going to be different. My plan was to reduce the amount of material students present and replace my mini-lectures on advanced statistical methods with videos the students watch outside class. And yet my time management in class today was still a train wreck.
On Saturday night I recorded and posted my first two econometrics mini-lectures. I had decided to do this for my seminar on human capital to free up time for classroom discussion, and give my students resources they could refer to as they read research articles that used those methods. It seemed like such a good idea as I was updating the syllabus, but then I actually had to create two of them for this week’s reading.
Every spring for the last five years I’ve taught the same undergraduate seminar on the economics of human capital in Latin America. In layman’s terms, it’s mostly about the causes and consequences of schooling and health in the region, and it includes a healthy dose of public policy evaluation. I’m teaching it a sixth time this spring and even though it’s been successful in the past, there’s always room for improvement. My teaching gets better when I try new things, and frankly I’m more engaged with the class when it’s got some new elements. The class doesn’t need a complete overhaul, but a little change can go a long way.
On the first day of my econometrics class in the fall I told my students that I had never taught a large lecture class before. I told them we were going to be trying many new things and might need to make changes on the fly. And I told them I was probably going to learn as much as they were. It was all true.
Every class at Yale has an associated Sakai web site where the professor can track enrollment for the class, post the syllabus, and make announcements. Students can also submit work, look at their grades, and sometimes participate in discussion forums. The software works, but it could be a lot better. I used Canvas (by Instructure) when I taught online over the summer and liked it so much I decided to use it this fall too. It went well, but with a few important caveats.