Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Becoming a Great Teacher: Introduction

Becoming a great teacher is no simple task, and requires multiple accomplishments. Great teachers find a way to make students learn. Great teachers inspire their students. Great teachers understand their material. Great teachers are admired by both students and other teachers.

We all know the attributes we believe to constitute a great teacher, but to my knowledge we have never asked students what they believe. Their opinion is obviously valuable.

To answer this question, I recruited a talented undergraduate named Carol Cook to interview agricultural economics students. In interviews with over 45 students, Carol asked the students to think of the best and worst teachers they have taken at Oklahoma State University, and to describe the attributes that make the best teachers better than the worst. Not only did she elicit the attributes that define a great teacher, but she asked the students why those attributes are important to them. Towards the end of the interview, she even determined the personal values the students hold that make those attributes important.

In the marketing literature, this type of interview is referred to as means-end-chain analysis or laddering.

These interviews are enlightening. They tell us what attributes define a great teacher in students' eyes, why those attributes are important to them, and their personal values driving the students' appraisal of the teacher.

In a series of blog entries, which will appear intermittently in this blog, Carol and I will describe the results of these interviews. So stay tuned, and please provide us feedback on your thoughts. If your goal is to be a great teacher in students' eyes, these blog entries will tell you how!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Beware the Boogeyman

Economists tend to view politicians differently than the non-economist. We believe there are some things that presidents cannot control. We view politicians less as a crusader for the common good and more as a crusader for their own reelection. We understand that some things, like economic growth, go in cycles, and that allowing the cycle to take its natural course is better than trying to tame it.

Economists have this view because there is ample evidence that it is correct, and we think incessantly about policy issues. As teachers of economics, I believe it is our duty to articulate this alternative view of politics to students. Students will forget elasticities and models soon after leaving class, but a healthy skepticism of politicians is a more lasting accomplishment.

For politicians to have value to the public, they must be able to give us something. One way to create value is to find a problem, create a boogeyman at the root of the probleme, and claim only they can protect us from this boogeyman - if they are elected!

We are told income inequality is not the result differing levels of education, but because corporate CEO's and Wal-Mart prevent the common man from earning his fair share. We are told that high oil prices is due to greedy oil companies and speculators. These events cannot be due to supply and demand, because no one can "protect us" from supply and demand. They must be due to a boogeyman (CEOs, speculators), because politicians can create laws to fight boogeymen.

This is serious business. The best way to bring our economy to its knees is to fight oil companies by nationalizing oil, yet as the clip below shows, some politicians claim this is what must be done.

Or maybe we should enact a windfall tax to punish oil companies from earning "excessive" profits. Politicians are seriously considering this also. It is at this time we should inform students that the "owners" of oil companies are primarily regular people like policeman and teachers who have pensions. In these teachable moments we should show graphs like the one below showing oil companies already pay huge taxes.

Most events in the world concerning money are caused by supply and demand, not boogeymen. If we do our job right, the next time oil prices spike, our students will immediately suspect a supply and demand explanation like the one shown in the graph below, and not a boogeyman who only politicans can slay.

A healthy skepticism of politicians is more important than a thorough understanding of demand elasticities. Let us make sure our our lectures reflect this priority.

(Note: thanks to the excellent blog Carpe Diem for the graphs)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Welcome to Seeds!

Welcome to Seeds, a new blog for students and teachers of agricultural economics. For months I had maintained a personal blog that covered a wide range of issues. It was an experiment to determine if I wanted to take blogging seriously and how the blog should be focused. Blogging was fun, but the blog topics were too dissimilar, so I decided to create this blog with a narrower focus.

This narrower focus is my life passion: teaching agricultural economics and helping agricultural business students evolve into successful and happy people.

In this blog, I will post information on teaching, advising, current events that are ideal for the classroom, and similar. For example, one blog entry might concern my research on what constitutes a great teacher, another might review activity on other blogs regarding high food and oil prices, and another might describe my former students, where they work, and the secrets of their success.

I am currently trying to obtain a partner for this blog. Andrew Barkley at Kansas State is my first pick, but I haven't heard whether he is interested yet.

So stay in touch, and let me know what you think.

Best Wishes,