There are many important issues in the news right now that I’d love to write about. There are policy decisions and campaign statements and housing woes and education debates that are all demanding my attention. Unfortunately, so is grading, and a trip to SF, and so I thought I would take a few minutes to reflect on the semester and particularly the inclusion of student blogging in my quantitative methods class this semester.
First, the positives. I really like that my students were writing every week. I think it’s important for their development as thinkers and economists to find ways to express themselves in various ways. Looking over their posts from the semester, I see significant growth in their thinking about econometrics and economic issues in their blogging and am excited to read their final thoughts this week on Donohue and Levitt’s (in)famous abortion and crime paper. I have pretty strong feelings about Freakonomics, but I hope that by reading the Freakonomics chapter, other chapters from the book, the actual paper that prompted the main thesis of the chapter and one of the primary critiques, they can reasonably evaluate the merits and failings of all sides of the argument.
Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of teaching this course has been how to help students to understand that statistical significance is not necessarily the end goal in itself. I’m not grading their papers on whether they found a significant result, but rather their ability to explain it. In reading several chapter of two books, the news, and working through their own research process, I hope that they begin to understand the distinction. I tried to design writing assignments to reflect an understanding of numbers, or coefficients, and will be looking to make that more explicit in upcoming semesters.
All of my students had some great insights throughout the semester. Whether in reading an article in the news and relating that to their research, or finding a connection between a chapter in Poor Economics and some aspect of their own research, it’s been exciting to see them grow and incorporate their lives into their writing and academic work. I’m not sure I made any bloggers for life, but I do hope they all continue writing and finding ways to share their work.
On the not-so-good side, I need to find a better way to track their posts and comments and a better way to ask them to read what each other is writing. Requiring commenting appeared not to be sufficient. I would like to have larger conversations on the blogging platform about the posts themselves. Perhaps requiring everyone read a particular student’s post in a given week and comment there is a better solution. Asking students to read different pieces of books or different articles might solve this as well. Although I think it’s useful for students to read different analyses of a topic they themselves have analyzed, I would like to split the kind of commenting they do a little more in order to expose them to more topics. In addition, much of the commenting was within small groups I only realized existed later in the semester. Students from one fraternity tended to read mostly each others’ posts, for instance. I would have liked to see more integration, but that was my shortsightedness, and it will be remedied.
Related to the issue of topics is the issue of books, reading different books, or more books, or articles may be in order. I chose Poor Economics and Freakonomics for their accessibility and ready discussion of statistics, but surely there are others. I have ruled out More Than Good Intentions by Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel, for reasons I might explicate here some other day, but surely there are others. Perhaps some Dan Ariely, or parts of Hamermesh’s Beauty Pays.
Another significant problem was length. I found it difficult to keep up 25 students worth of writing every week. In the future, I will be stricter and more explicit about length requirements. In order to stay on top of it, and help students develop the skill of writing concisely, maximum word counts are definitely in order.
I’m still exploring ways to better incorporate twitter into the classroom. I know that many of my students read this blog and thus see many of my tweets on the sidebar, but they are still mostly passive readers. Perhaps it’s too much to try to incorporate social media in a class that’s already jam-packed with mountains of new information, but I did like the few opportunities I had to bring it up.
All in all, I think it’s a great way to do writing exercises. Even the limited exposure my students had to outside commentary was useful and a good reminder of how they can use their ideas to shape opinions and contribute to wider conversations. Next time, I’ll do some things differently, but we will keep blogging. You can follow a whole new group of students in the Fall, and even more of them in the Spring! Look for us later on, and of course, you’ll hear plenty from me in the next few months. Thanks for a great semester, for all your thoughts and tweets and emails, and if anyone has thoughts about how to make the student blogging process smoother or more integrative or more useful to students, I’d be very happy to hear your ideas in an email or the comments section.