Podcast #77

Jose Vasquez has been teaching economics at the University of Illinois for 14 years. He teaches one of the largest introductory microeconomics classes in the world every semester with more than 900 students. He also teaches one of the biggest intro micro MOOC’s in the world: His Coursera course has had more than 100,000 students register in the last five years. He thinks deeply about how best to use his class time and what he wants students to do outside class. Our conversation covers a wide range as Jose explains what still excites him about teaching and how he got to where he is. We also talk about the joys of active learning, the importance of motivating our students, and the benefits (and costs) of peer assessment.

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Show Notes

0:00 Introducing and welcoming Jose Vazquez. Trying to focus on peer assessments. How Jose came to focus on teaching economics: bringing together research, social benefit, and teaching.

5:44 The illusion that active learning methods means giving up control: if anything, it requires a high level of comfort. Putting the lectures on video–and putting his best economic jokes in the videos.

9:19 Active learning is not just students working problems together. Some short pieces of lecture are usually needed. Jose: “You need to know the kinds of questions and misconceptions students are going to have.” Helping students identify their problems–so they can correct them. Comparing lecturing and lecture capture with listening to Miles Davis live and on CD: One’s better, the other is still pretty good!

15:56 There’s still a lot we don’t know about classroom instruction. But we are starting to have the tools to collect the data we need. Teaching large classes also give you more data.

19:41 In 50 minutes, there’s not a lot of cognitive change. It’s wiser to focus on motivaton. The illusion we sometimes have that they’re learning when we’re talking. Plus a similar notion that there’s one best way of expressing any idea. Uta Hagen writing a book that can’t be misunderstood

25:10 Benefits and challenges of peer evaluation: students giving each other either A’s or F’s. Using a very detailed rubric for the purposes of evaluating the results.

32:32 Simplifying the rubric by getting rid of rows and columns: using a holistic rubric with only three levels. In favor of simpler rubrics: Doug’s rubrics for peer evaluation of project.

38:24 Can we reduce teaching to a science? It’s not just about learning objectives: it’s also about inspiration. Not everything can be quantified, and the process itself matters.

44:44 Teaching fails. Bringing back the lecture–instead of pure active learning. Lecturing has a high cost (in terms of time), but it’s sometimes worth it. Taking student feedback seriously: instructor humility.

52:22 Quality control in peer grading with Moodle: giving students a sample to grade, or having someone spot check the grades. Asking students to explain their score improves the results. (Also: students grading a few pieces of peer work reduces the effect of fatigue on grades.)

57:24 Thanks and signing off.