Friday, October 17, 2008

Becoming a Great Teacher: Part 7

The second and third most important attributes of great teachers, as indicated from our personal interviews of students are: personable and knows students.

Personable: Students want a teacher who they feel comfortable with. They want a teacher who likes being around students, who maintains an open door policy, and never hesitates to help a student or engage in a friendly conversation.

Knows Students: Students appreciate teachers who take the time to get to know students, and they return the favor by trying harder in class. Recent research of mine utilizing hard copy surveys instead of interviews suggest this is the NUMBER ONE most important attribute of great teachers.

An Interesting Class Activity: Here is how I get to know students. Students love this activity, when I forget to do it at the beginning of class they are obviously disappointed.

(a) The first day of class I ask them to fill out an information sheet containing their name, cell phone number, favorite music they are currently listening to, career aspirations, favorite TV program, and similar items.

(b) At the beginning of class I hold a Meet Your Classmates activity. Before each class I select one student to feature. As the students are coming in I play music from that students' information sheet. You can easily purchase individual songs from Itunes.

(c) During the Meet Your Classmates I introduce the student, their song, and tell a little about the person. I always find something to pick on them about, but I wouldn't suggest doing this unless you think you have the personality to pull it off. I get away with many things most people would get in trouble for :)

(d) I always make a point to comment on the person's career aspirations, and how the topics in the class can help them achieve those aspirations. Sometimes I give them advice on achieving these aspirations, and give this advice publicly in case others may benefit.

As I said, students absolutely love this activity, and they appreciate me taking the time to get to know each of them personally. I highly recommend it!

Sometimes if a student does not come to class I pull their info sheet out and call their phone number and pick on them for not being in class. I teach in the afternoon, and they are often at the bar. Again, I can pull this off without getting in trouble for some reason, others may not.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vote for Bailey - Best Professor!

I'm in the running for "Best Professor" at OSU! If you want to help me win, vote for me as many times as you can here.

Thanking you in advance,

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Twelve Questions to Measure Student Engagement

Self-Determination Theory is a scientific theory of what makes people happy, engaged in life, and mentally well-adjusted. In the theory, individual well-being is driven by personal competence, autonomy in life, and relatedness to other people.

This is evident in the 12-question survey developed by the Gallup Organization to measure employee engagement. When reading the questions, I wondered whether replacing "employee" with "student", and the other necessary changes, would measure student engagement in class? You tell me from the modified questions below.

Twelve Questions to Measure Student Engagement

(1) Do you know what is expected of you at work (in class)?
(2) Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work right (complete your assignments correctly)?
(3) At work (in class), do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
(4) In the last seven days (During class), have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
(5) Does your supervisor, or someone at work, (teacher) seem to care about you as a person?
(6) Is there someone at work (in class) who encourages your development?
(7) At work (In class), do your opinions seem to count?
(8) Does the mission/purpose of your company (school) make you feel your job (class) is important?
(9) Are your associates (fellow employees) (fellow students) committed to doing quality work?
(10) Do you have a best friend at work (at school)?
(11) In the last six months (Since beginning class), has someone at work (school) talked to you about your progress?
(12) In the last year (Since beginning school), have you had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Prison Currency

Introductory economics courses typically discuss the functions of money. When discussing the fact that currency serves as a medium of exchange, it is common for instructors to mention the fact that cigarettes are often the currency of choice in prisons.

Not anymore: cigarettes have been replaced by Mackerel. Yes, the fish. Read more here at Carpe Diem.

Explaining the Financial Meltdown

From the recent economic writings on the financial meltdown, it is clear that no one fully understands exactly what went wrong, why it went wrong, and the best strategy for dealing with the problem. If you are like me, you have been hesitate to try and explain it to students because you do not have the time to invest in trying to undestand the problem and developing lecture notes.

This investment of time just got smaller. Before today I had never heard of the Milken Institute, but at this site they have posted a superb video and and set of slides explaining the recent financial problems.

After visiting this site, I may change my mind about discussing it with students.

HT: Carpe Diem

Friday, October 3, 2008

An Alternative to Textbooks

An alternative to textbooks is the second edition of The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. As with all products from the Library of Economics and Liberty, it is superb. Virtually all economic topics are covered in an accessible style.

There are few graphs, but that just gives you something to do in lectures!

Price as a Quality Signal

Demand curves are important, but boring. Making students learn that people buy less of the a product as its price rises is non-controversial and uninteresting. Yet there are a number of interesting aspects about demand and price that we do not discuss in class.

The Ig Nobel Prize winners were recently announced, which is a prize given to researchers whose findings make people laugh and think.

Dan Ariely showed that fake medicine with a high price is more effective than fake medicine with a low price. The placebo effect is real, and more real as its price rises. Demand may slope downward when quality is held constant, but if price is a signal of quality, price is not held constant along the demand curve.

Another showed that people like the same bottle of wine more the more they pay for it. And they were not just saying they liked it better because it had a higher price, brain scans revealed they really do like it better!

These interesting findings do not necessarily help illustrate any economic concept, but they are interesting, and interesting helps keep students awake.

Guest Blog: One Question All Interviewees Should Ask

Guest Blog by Brian Briggeman - Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University.

Rick Greubel, International Group Vice President for Tyson Foods, delivered a thought provoking talk on globalization and what it means for agriculture to CASNR students on Thursday, October 2nd. Every college student should hear his answer to a question I posed.

Often I wonder if we, as a faculty and staff at OSU, do an adequate job discussing what it takes to be successful once a student takes a job and is working. During the Q&A session of Mr. Greubel’s talk, I decided to ask him his thoughts on what it takes to be successful once a student starts working. His response was, in my opinion, something all students and even people who are working should consider.

He said that when you start working, really immerse yourself in the job, the culture, the “ins-and-outs,” and the best way to do this is to really learn about your job while you are working. Just because you graduated from OSU doesn't mean learning has ceased. In fact, it probably only accelerates. Also, he said that you should try and identify your talents early and use them in your job because that will help you be successful. Success can be defined many ways but if you use your talents in your job, you will more than likely excel in your job and have fun in your job. Enjoying what you do, work or play, is a key to being happy.

So, how can you sum this all up and more importantly, how can you get a glimpse into a company before you accept their job offer? Ask one crucial question in the interview, “What will I learn if I go to work for your company?” What a simple question, but one that will tell you a lot about the company. Moreover, it will demonstrate to the interviewer that you really are interested, are engaged, and care about this job interview.

(Addition from Bailey: On August 19 I blogged about visiting former graduates at Koch Industries. Sitting at a table with four former graduates, Iasked them the one course that was the most useful in their career. It was unanimous: Dr. Briggeman's agricultural finance course. This implies two lessons. First, finance is a vital topic to our graduates. Second, if you want to know how to teach ag finance effectively, consult Brian Briggeman!)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

So far so good

Economists are one of the few groups of people that understand human lives generally improve with time. I am reading a superb book called The Human Story containing the following poem at the end. The avant-garde of course would despise a poem that rhymes and is easy to understand, but I don't blog for the avant-garde! This poem is the best description of The Human Story I have read.

Maybe you might enjoy it too. Who knows, maybe even one of your students?

From Labrador to Coral Sea

Our lives were stunted, bleak, unfree.

We shared our huts with rats and fleas

And lost our children to disease.

(Our holy men would sigh and nod

and tell us, "That's the will of God.")

But then, with steam, vaccines, and votes,

Our fortunes rose like tide-raised boats.

We'd more to eat; drew breath more years;

Dethroned (or worse) our tsars, emirs;

Sent men and mirrors as our eyes

To search the black galactic skies;

And in our cells, till then unseen,

We found our Fates, our djinns: our genes.

The world's still cruel, that's understood,

But once was worse. So far so good.

--James C. Davis in Epilogue to The Human Story

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Giving Students the Exam

I do not know how to make students learn. I should, being a tenured teacher who has one a few teaching awards. My colleagues do not know either. Students learn very little in college. Though I put great effort into modifying my teaching style to improve learning, I am always surprised how little they seem to know come test time.

Last semester I wondered whether this was a rational decision by the students: not to learn much. Many professors are not clear about what will appear on the test. Consequently, if a student learns anything, the likelihood it will appear on the test is small, so why put forth the effort?

To test this, last semester I gave students a copy of the test I would give. Now, they knew if they studied the question there was a 100% chance of a positive return. Some of the numbers in the math questions would change, and the ordering of the multiple choice questions would change, but that is all. The result was pleasing, as shown by the following breakdown of grades.

51% made an A
20% made a B
14% made a C
16% flunked (I don't give D's)

This means that when the students took the exam, they really learned the material. They did not just memorize answers, the test was not like that. They knew exactly what the question was like, not exactly what the question would be. So they studied how to answer the question, and for the first time, half of my students made an A.

Yet, when I repeated this on the next exam, only 16% made A's and 35% flunked. Another feature of my class is that I allow any student to retake the exam to improve one letter grade. After talking with the students, it turned out that they did so well on the first test, and were so busy that week, many decided not to study for the test and flunk, but to study the following week for the retest to make a C.

There is no denouemont to this story. It is interesting though, I think. I still pursue this strategy: telling the students exactly what will be on the test. In my current class, I gave them the class and let them spent two whole class periods taking the exam and helping them. I don't like that I do this, but it is the only way I can get a large majority of the class to learn most of the material.