I am ambivalent about using props in class. Used well, props can illustrate an important point or concept. Sometimes props can surprise or entertain students such that the lesson is more memorable. They’re fun. On the other hand, props can cheapen the whole educational enterprise and make it look like you are trying too hard. Shouldn’t the material itself be enough to engage the audience? I’m not totally sure where my performance at the beginning of Friday’s lecture falls, but I hope it was on the positive side.
Last night, as I was putting the finishing touches on my first lecture of the semester, I made what I thought was a pretty good list of general goals for a first class:
A few years ago I taught a course called “Microeconomics for Healthcare Professionals” in the Yale School of Public Health. It was an introductory economics class required for all Masters students who had a concentration in either public policy or administration. Students who had already taken an economics class as an undergraduate could waive the requirement and take a more advanced class instead. Many of the students that took my class had actively avoided economics as undergrads and were pretty unhappy to have to finally take it.
As I make progress preparing my lecture class for the fall, there are three tough choices I still have to make:
A good friend of mine will be teaching a brand new course at her new institution in the fall, and she emailed me for advice. I told her if she did these two things her teaching can’t help but get better:
When I was in college, all my discussion sections had the same structure. The Teaching Assistant (TA) would give a short lecture that repeated the greatest hits of the main lecture and then do problems on the board from our last homework assignment, focusing on the ones we had screwed up the most. Sometimes there would be a few minutes at the end where he or she would ask us if we had any questions. None of this was particularly helpful, and if we had been given written solutions to the homework, section would have been even less helpful. I structured my sections this way when I was a TA in grad school, and as far as I can tell, most college sections (at least for science/math/social science classes) are run the same way today.
When we improve a system’s economic efficiency, we allow it to produce the same amount of output (or more) with fewer inputs. Economists like these kinds of improvements because they free up resources that can be then used to produce other goods and services, and in most markets, improving efficiency in production results in higher output and lower prices for everyone.
In addition to the undergraduate teaching I do in the economics department at Yale, I teach statistical methods in the RWJ Clinical Scholars Program. Starting at ground zero with an intensive 5 weeks of foundational probability and statistics over the summer, we gradually build up to some pretty fancy methods by the end of the following spring. My students are terrific–They are all physicians who want to know how to read and understand published research and analyze their own data. No one is there because they have to be there–everyone is invested. That makes my job a lot easier and a lot more fun!
When teaching a small (15-30 student) class, it’s easy to be interactive. My natural lecturing style is conversational, and I’m constantly asking students questions and breaking them into pairs or small groups to work through problems. I think a lot more learning happens when students actively engage with the material.