New School, New Classes, New Tech

This fall have a new job: I’m now a senior lecturer in the economics department at Cornell. It’s been super busy, but a good busy as I am meeting new people, prepping new lectures, and learning lots of new technology. The view from my new office isn’t so bad either!

The people: Jenny Wissink and Gregory Besherov, my fellow lecturers in Econ have been incredibly welcoming answering all my dumb newb questions. Larry Blume, my new chair, and I are on the same page about what high quality education looks like, and I’m very excited to work with Theresa Pettit and her folks at the Center for Teaching Excellence. And then there are all the smart, curious and hard-working students I’ve met!

The classes: Cornell economics offers two two-semester undergraduate sequences in econometrics: The “mathy” one and the “applied” one. I’m teaching the first semester of the mathy sequence and the second semester of the applied sequence. These courses are both similar to things I taught at Yale, but different enough to require quite a bit of prep before every lecture as I cobble bits together and write new material. Francesca Molinari and Jim Berry have taught these classes before and have genously shared their materials and advice which has also been extremely helpful. So far so good, but there’s still plenty of time to screw things up.

Blackboard, the Learning Management System: After several years of working with Sakai and Canvas at Yale, I’m starting over with Blackboard , and so far it’s been a pleasant surprise. I can’t lay out my course site exactly the way I like, but there’s enough flexibility to let me have separate pages (“Content Areas”) for each week and post files, text, links, and videos. Blackboard seems to have all the normal LMS features too, like sending announcements, posting assignments, calendars, and letting students submit assignments.

Panopto, the Lecture Capture System: Neither of my classrooms is equipped with automatic lecture capture this term, but I still wanted to record my classes for students. Ben Moss in the Academic Technologies group has been a big help getting Panopto running on my own computer. The system captures everything that happens on my screen as well as audio, and to be honest, I don’t think the camera I had at the back of the room at Yale was contributing very much to the final product. The Panopto online editor let’s me crop the dead space at the beginning and end, and it’s all tightly integrated with Blackboard. Perhaps the coolest part is that it grabs and indexes my slides and makes the whole video extremely searchable by the students.

Astropad plus PowerPoint: This is a combination I actually used successfully teaching online over the summer that let’s me use my iPad Pro to draw on my slides. The pencil is very responsive until I’ve filled a page with annotation. Then the system gets sluggish and starts dropping strokes. I think it’s Powerpoint’s fault since I saw similar behavior when using a Wacom tablet last fall, and eventually I need a better solution here.

i>clicker, the Classroom Response System: In class feedback is extremely useful. If I know what is sticking in students’ brains and what isn’t, I can adjust on the fly and try to clarify points that weren’t so clear the first time around. Clickers are a great way to get this feedback and get students active in the classroom. Cornell has institution-wide support for i>clicker’s technology, and Pat Graham (also in the Academic Technologies group) and Jennie Wissink got me up to speed in no time. Students purchase dedicated hardware clickers or apps for their phones that work just as well. The integration with Powerpoint is brilliantly simple and requires no special preparation of questions–You just put whatever you want on your slide and press the start polling button. Press stop when you’re done and, and the Results button shows you a nice bar graph. I thought Turning Point was easy, but this is even easier. And it doesn’t require switching to a web browser like so many of the other polling products out there.

Those of you who have been following my teaching journey for the past few years may realize I’m actually doing very little new in my classes this fall–It’s really just the same stuff with a whole new stack of technology. That said, this new tech has lots of cool new features, and I have high hopes of trying new things with it in the spring.