Podcast Creation as a Student Assignment

On February 22, 2019, I had the honor of sharing my experiences and thoughts on using podcast creation as an assignment in an economic course.

Below are some resources that you may find helpful:

Other useful outside resources:

Quizzes

Quizzes

Most quizzes that I have seen used in economics only test the most basic skills of memorization and regurgitation. Therefore, I am generally not a proponent of using conventional quizzes as any substantial part of assessment.

I have heard of promising alternative forms, such as unlimited try quizzes – where the quiz serves to promote mastery, that I would be open to experimenting with.

Another scenario in which I might employ a quiz as if I was teaching a class that was very dependent on student contribution and student work prior to the class. If I was having difficulty ensuring that students did the required readings prior to class and that harmed discussion, I would consider implementing a quiz to motivate students to properly prepare.

exams

Exams

I take issue with exams that are more difficult than what students have seen before. I have had many exams where the problem was similar to things I had worked on, but with some twist. While I think these types of problems can be useful in promoting understanding rather than memorization, I do not feel they are appropriate for timed, high-stakes exams. Instead the twist and difficulties should be left for untimed, open book problem sets where students can wrestle with the material and work to learn it. Exams should test the basics and the conceptual understanding.

Here is an example of an exam I helped create. While I did not have complete control as this was not my course (I was the teaching assistant), this example does capture some of what I strive for.

problem-sets

Problem Sets

One of the strengths of economics is that it uses equations and proofs to achieve a degree of rigor. Consequently, homework problems are typically technique-based. Students plug in numbers, go through the steps shown in class and reach “the answer”. They can go through these without doing any real thinking, seeing a connection to the real world or even seeing a connection to other parts of the course (link to example problem set). At times that strength of economics, the rigor, can impede for some students the formation of those critical conceptual connections.

This semester for intermediate microeconomics, I carefully designed an involved problem set on Consumer Surplus & Taxes that included connections both to previous ideas covered in the course and the real life decisions of investors. When I reviewed this problem during section, the students’ level of engagement surprised even me. Not only were they asking probing questions about the material and its relation to the world during class, but several students stayed so long after that I had to send them out in order to start my next section. In my second section I reached the end time and wrapped class up. However not one person moved from their seat. Instead all fifteen students stayed for at least five more minutes and kept asking probing questions to see more of the picture that I had helped to open up to them.

 

Assessment

Student Assessment

Today’s performance and metric-driven society pushes students to memorize for the test. The questions “Will this be on the exam?” and “Will this be graded?” have been heard by every professor. This mentality inhibits students’ ability to strive for a deep level of understanding and perceive these connections. Instead, students often simply memorize where the ‘dots’ are and neglect to consider how the material impacts their view of and relationship with the world – the ‘picture’.

My goal for grades is that they assess students’ attainment of the learning objectives I set out for them. Grades should inform students of their progress, and help inform me of my effectiveness (see more on my effectiveness as a teacher here). Grades also serve as a strong motivator for students. They implicitly believe that the grade weights of different aspect of the course reflect their relative importance, so I keep that in mind when setting up my course rubrics.

I desire to help my students reach higher level thinking. I believe different methods of assessment are best used for different purposes. For each of the following, I describe my thoughts. The links will take you to more discussion as well as some examples:

  • Quizzes usually test the most basic level of knowledge. Therefore, I mainly use them to ensure that students do work required for group discussions – when their preparedness (or lack thereof) impacts the rest of the class.
  • Exams should not include twist and difficulties that students have not seen before. Those should be left for problem sets (see below). I strive to have my exams test concepts, and serve mainly as a knowledge check point for my students.
  • Problem Sets: The (relatively) untimed and open book nature of problem sets gives students the opportunity to really grapple with the material. I put a lot of effort to ensure that my problem sets take students on a journey of that leads to understanding, and are not rote exercises of regurgitation.
  • Essays: [forthcoming]
  • Other: [forthcoming]