This summer I’m teaching undergraduate econometrics as a small online class in Yale Summer Session. The overall structure of class is mix of recorded video lectures and live interactive video sessions. I did this last year, but this time around I’ll be trying lots of new technology and new methods. I’ll be sharing what I learn here. Today was our first live session of the term, and while there is plenty of room for improvement, I’d say it was an overall success.
Two years ago I taught undergraduate Econometrics and Data Analysis (Econ 131) for the first time, and just used the same textbook as the instructor before me did without much consideration for alternatives. In the short term, this saved me time, but the book turned out to be a poor fit for my class and my students mostly hated it. This summer I’m teaching the class for the fourth time, and I finally made a serious search for a good replacement. Here’s what I learned about textbook selection during the process:
One of the smartest people I read on the web is Fraser Speirs. He’s best known for implementing the first ever true 1:1 deployment of iPads in a school. On his blog and in his podcast he shares big ideas about the future of technology and K-12 education as well as his take on the “little” stuff that really matters. He’s currently on Part 15 of a sequence of podcasts dedicated to helping schools build their own 1:1 iPad program and the attention to detail is frightening.
I spend the vast majority of my classroom time running the show. I’m either lecturing, guiding discussion, or overseeing small group activities. This morning I attended class as a student for the first time in almost ten years, and I found it useful to observe someone else’s teaching approach as well as get a firsthand refresher on the student experience.
As I’ve written before, when I teach online, it’s about as far from a MOOC as you can get. The biggest difference is that all Yale Summer Session online classes include a large live component. Imagine the instructor is in a Google Hangout for big chunks of time with their 15 students scattered around the world. Of course the devil is in the details, and we don’t use Google Hangouts since they only support up to 10 participants. As far as I know, only two companies go over 15 simultaneous users: Watchitoo (up to 25) and Zoom (up to 100!). I used Watchitoo last year with mixed results, and this year we’re trying Zoom.
Two years ago, the media (and almost everyone else) couldn’t stop talking about how great MOOCs were. Even I got pretty excited about them. Some people got a little crazy predicting the imminent death of the traditional higher education system, but the reality was impressive. High quality courseware was getting put online for free and people all over the world were taking advantage of it.
After two years of off-and-on blogging about all sorts of things at High Variance, I’ve decided to move everything I have to say about teaching and education in general to this brand new site. I realized that I have a lot more to share and it will be easier to find an audience if this content isn’t mixed in with posts about 80’s music and Conan the Barbarian.
One of the huge payoffs from having smart students that are engaged and thinking creatively is that they have great ideas for how I can make my courses better. Yesterday was the last meeting of the semester for my Economics of Human Capital in Latin America seminar, and I spent the last 15 minutes getting feedback on the course. I could have waited for their written course evaluations, but this way we can actually have a constructive dialog. Here’s what we came up with:
While some disciplines encourage substantial creativity in their undergraduate students, the vast majority of college student academic effort goes into analysis or memorization. Certainly that’s true in economics. Most of the students in my seminars are seniors, and they are far more comfortable interpreting and using theory than creating or even tweaking it.