First Lessons Learned: Online Econometrics, Day 1

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.


My Teaching Assistant and I were joined in a giant chatroom by nine students. This year’s group are mostly within 150 miles of campus (e.g., Rhode Island, Delaware, Cape Code) but I do have one student connecting from Las Vegas, Nevada. The July session is traditionally more international, so this isn’t too surprising. After last year’s experience of a couple students dropping in and and out every few minutes all term, everyone’s Internet connection was solid as a rock. I attribute at least some of this to the Zoom software/service that we are using.

The first few minutes of the class, I could see every one of my students in a big grid, but as soon as I shared my slides (as a PDF displayed by Preview), I could only see four students at a time in a small scrolling window. It wasn’t a screen real estate issue as I’ve got a 13” laptop display augmented by a 27” external monitor. I need to figure out how to see everyone so I’m not constantly scrolling through the class to see which ideas are sticking and which aren’t.

I used Zoom’s annotation features to work through a few problems and other than my poor handwriting, it worked well. Hopefully with practice I’ll get better at using my $99 Wacom Intuous. And hopefully they will add an Eraser tool soon so I can correct my mistakes. Even with practice, I’m unlikely to stop making mistakes!

Quizzes with Canvas

Last year I felt like my students watched the recorded lectures as if they were watching TV during dinner. That is, they didn’t take notes or really try to absorb everything. I want them to pay attention as if they are actually in a classroom with their peers (and me). To help them recognize when they are paying close enough attention, my TA and I are creating short quizzes associated with each module’s video content. The quiz questions are not designed to be difficult–the students will get pushed hard in their problem sets once they understand the basic ideas well.

We’re running into a few technical glitches with Canvas (e.g., not republishing changed questions), but the first quiz worked well. Being able to include mathematical equations in the questions text is fantastic, although it would be nice if we could also put equations into the multiple choice answers.

Last year, I implemented an experimental quiz with Google Docs, but by using Canvas, they are now integrated with the rest of the class content. This makes it easy to keep track of which students are actually taking the quizzes, and I’ve already run reports to find out which questions the class had the most trouble with. This kind of information is invaluable in customizing the following live session.