Instructional Technology Newsletter 6 – Online Teaching – Technology and Pedagogy in Econ 101

Amy Diduch, Professor of Economics

June 2013

Consider me a reluctant on-line instructor. I have a long history of being skeptical about teaching students how to construct, understand and manipulate graphs in an on-line course. Economics is a subject that can be difficult to learn from reading a textbook. However, Mary Baldwin needed more on-line Econ 101 courses and I agreed to teach one of them.

Background research
Determined to find a way to teach technical material effectively, I began by looking at a popular MOOC: the “Artificial intelligence” course offered by Stanford University. From watching the first unit I gained several useful ideas:
(1) Video “lectures” do not need to be high-tech. (The AI unit 1 lectures show someone’s hand writing with a pen on a pad of paper or white board).
(2) Video lectures should be short. This makes it easy for a student to go back and review a single concept. (Average duration of the AI unit 1 lectures: 6-11 minutes).
(3) Video lectures can contain embedded self-quizzes to test student understanding. (In the AI course, the answer is provided in a subsequent video).

Mary Baldwin resources
In an “Instructional Technology” newsletter last year, Rachel Potter explained how to use the recorder available through “Smart Notebook” to create a voice-over for anything showing on your computer screen. The recorder is very easy to use and the resulting video file can be directly uploaded to YouTube.

Pedagogical decisions for Econ 101
In an Econ 101 class, students need to see how to construct and manipulate graphs. They need to practice these skills and learn how to apply them to new situations. To create the learning and practice structure closest to the in-class experience:

1. I began by restructuring my course into six distinct units.
2. For each unit, I created the following:

  • A series of short video lectures. Each lecture lasts 8 – 15 minutes. For the “visuals,” I created a mixture of PowerPoint and Smart Notebook files. I used the animation tools in PowerPoint to demonstrate how to plot points and show how graphs shift. I also became more adept at using Smart Notebook to make a series of graphs that created a sense of movement from screen to screen. I upload the lectures to YouTube but make them “unlisted” so people outside the course cannot search for them. I post the links to the videos on Blackboard. (Example: Perfect competition 1, )  Directions on how to use Smart Recorder to record your lectures are here:
  • A lecture “organizer” for each group of similar lectures. The lecture organizer contains questions, key terms, and blank graph space to help students recognize the main ideas and prod them to draw their own graphs.
  • Regular self quizzes embedded in either the videos or the lecture organizer. Answers are provided either in the lecture video (with instructions to the student to pause the lecture and answer the quiz questions before continuing) or in the lecture organizer (with answer provided at the end).
  • An extensive problem set for the unit that asks the student to apply the key ideas and theories. I posted problem sets on Blackboard. Students downloaded them, answered the questions (sketching graphs by hand), scanned them into their computers, and uploaded them back to Blackboard (or e-mailed / faxed them to me). I had a complete set of answers ready to send to students as soon as they submitted their work.
  • A graded quiz for the unit. These quizzes are mostly multiple choice / short answer and are graded automatically by Blackboard. They include a lot of questions requiring students to read and interpret graphs.
  • Additional tutorial materials: Mostly these were handouts and tutorials created for my on-campus students.

3.      I gave two midterm exams and a final exam. All exams had both multiple choice /short answer sections on Blackboard and written / graphing sections that students completed, scanned, and returned to me.

What worked
Throughout the course, students told me that they really appreciated the video lectures and the lecture organizers. They enjoyed the occasional discussion forum opportunities to apply their new knowledge to current events (ex: price controls during Hurricane Sandy). The distribution of grades (and the learning demonstrated on the final exam) was reasonably equivalent to on-campus outcomes (although I believe several of the students would have performed better in an on-campus course).

What I will change for next year
The students need more feedback on whether they are learning the material. They struggle with the multiple choice questions (as do on-campus students, but I use don’t use multiple choice questions as often with them). For next year, I plan to add multiple choice practice quizzes to each unit that provide immediate feedback on their answers. I plan to re-record a few of the lecture videos: I will break a few of the longer ones into shorter segments and add more examples.

Advantages of the videos
I was able to provide students in my May term Experimental Econ course links to the supply and demand videos. I will provide access to the full set of videos in my on-campus Econ 101 course this fall and will begin to “flip” a few of my classes (where I will ask students to watch the video prior to class and then use the class period to practice and apply skills).

About the Committee:

The Instructional Technology Committee is an ad-hoc faculty committee made up of representatives from the faculty and the Instructional Technology staff at Mary Baldwin.The Current Committee is:
Carol Creager
Doris Dodson
Bob Klonoski
Chandra Mason
Reid Oechslin
Rachel Potter
Beverly Riddell
Susan Stearns
Laura van AssendelftThe charter of the committee is to:Provide a forum for input to the Instructional Technology staff on the relative value of technological improvements from a pedagogical perspective.
Be a champion and example for technology enhanced teaching within their schools
Try out new technologies that seem promising
Develop and share best practices & rubrics for technology enhanced teaching
Recommend equipment and management for mixed use (instructional and non-instructional) space
This committee meets as necessary.