Things were feeling a little dated around here. I thought a redesign might get the blogging spirit running through me again. I’m not totally sold on it yet, but the times they are a-changin’.
I’m in London this week for a conference and had a very funny discussion at breakfast about blogging and the public element of putting one’s life on the internet. It reminded me that I haven’t been reading many blogs lately (or writing for that matter, sorry, I do still love you all), and prompted me to go visit a few of them after getting back from dinner this evening.
The particular blog I was discussing this morning was Chris Blattman’s, and I was pleased to find his post today included a link to Jordan Weissman’s “Why are women paid less?” at the Atlantic. Being on UK time, I missed the debate last night, but feel I’m getting caught up a bit with help from the above and other, very helpful, very serious news sources.
It’s the first day of classes here at Gettysburg College and I am working hard (as I’m sure are many) to get back into the swing of things, to readjust to the humid Pennsylvania weather, and to find my rain jacket and galoshes only to have the sun come out while I’m in class.
I’m done with my first day and I’m happy to report that my students will be blogging again. This time, there will be two different classes, Quantitative Methods and Labor Economics. I’m really excited to have my Labor students reading BLS jobs reports every month and getting them as addicted to on-the-spot analysis as I am…I mean, well, moving on. Hopefully, we’ll get some good conversations going this semester.
For my part, I’ll be back up and running soon. I owe you all an explanation of what I was doing in Venezuela. It’s forthcoming and will be cross-posted at Caracas Chronicles, so might have a slightly different feel to it than what I usually write here. After that, I should be back to a normal posting schedule. My apologies for a slow August. Good luck to all going back to school with the new semester and talk to you soon!
As you’re reading this, I’m likely on a plane, or sitting in one of many airports or train stations that is in my future over the next month and a half or so. Today, I’m headed to India to see my dear friend and colleague get married. It’s going to be a five-day, multicity affair, with an overnight train ride in the middle. En route, I’m stopping in Mumbai and Darjeeling to do some shopping (new saree!) and hiking and to see a bit more of this huge, incredible country. I was in India a few years ago and fell in love with it. It’s overwhelming, to be sure. The smells and the colors and the throngs of people are total madness, but I love it; it’s exhilarating to be somewhere out of my comfort zone. I’m not doing research this trip, though you can guarantee my eyes will be peeled for interesting things. I’m also not taking a computer, which means unless I can get wi-fi for my phone, I’m doing this trip old school. I’m going to read some books and journals, including Casualties of Credit by Wennerland and the CESifo journal issue on malnutrition, and some stuff for fun, like Just Kids and back issues of the New Yorker, but won’t be here or on twitter much. My 30th birthday present to myself is a real break from work, this means not thinking about the papers I have under review, or the one that’s due at the end of August, or the one I have to finish for the CNEH conference in Banff in October (so excited for Banff!). A break. I’m going to sit in a big, comfy chair on a tea plantation and stare at the Himalayas (or the clouds, given that it is monsoon season, but, details). If you want to read more about down time (or the lack thereof), take a few minutes for this piece in the NYT from last week on “busyness”, a phenomenon that I’ve been complaining about since my years at Duke, and suddenly everyone is talking about, or Bryce Covert’s piece in The Nation on work-family balance. If you know something I shouldn’t miss in Darjeeling, Kolkata or Ranchi, please do share. I’ll try to check email sporadically. I’ve also been designated honorary photographer and family blocker for this wedding by my advisors, fellow grad students, and professors in the Economics department at the University of Colorado, so I hope to have some crazy wedding pictures and experiences to share when I get back. Have fun! Talk to you all soon. Enjoy your July and thanks for reading. I forgot to acknowledge my blogiversary (sp?), but I’ve loved getting to know you all over the past year. Thanks for your comments and ideas and conversation and emails and shares and links. This has been an amazing learning experience for me and I’m so excited to keep it up over the next year (I promise not to torture you all too much with job market woes in the coming months. Feel free to chastise me if it gets out of hand.)
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.
I’ve been writing here, on this blog, for a little more than eight months. What started as a way to take a break from finishing my thesis and put down some thoughts about economics has turned into a big part of how I spend my time thinking about economics. Responding to tweets and news articles and other bloggers helps me formulate my thoughts about teaching and my research, and gives me a place to keep track of papers I’m reading. I find it much more useful than EndNote, but that’s perhaps more indicative of the way my head works than anything.
One partly unintended consequence is that I’ve gained a little notoriety. The first time Modeled Behavior tweeted one of my posts, my site stats shot up and I was so confused. I thought someone had made a mistake, then became nervous that Gary Becker had read it and was going to end my career, or something. When discovered the source and tweeted them (him? it? how do we refer to a hivemind?) to say thanks, the hivemind confirmed they had similar fears that elevated site stats were a result of pissing someone off.
With that, I’ve done a very non-scientific survey of bumps. My site stats have, on average, risen over time, but there’s still a noticeable difference when one of the more established economics bloggers tweets or reblogs my stuff. Also, I don’t always know who reblogs or retweets, so if you did and I didn’t mention you, it’s nothing personal, wordpress just didn’t indicate very well to me who you are.
By way of methodology, I wanted to calculate a percentage increase in day-over-day page views, as displayed by WordPress on the day of a tweet or mention. But stats will only let me go back far enough to see three of the bumps. So, the others are cobbled together from my memory. These posts all occurred between February 10 and April 10, 2012.
The biggest bump so far came from a combined DeLong/Modeled Behavior bump. I can’t separate them out with great confidence, but given the second biggest bump came from Modeled Behavior and the magnitude of daily hits was more than twice the sole MB day, so I’m going to give it to DeLong. It’s close though, for sure. Without further ado, my list of blogging bumps, in descending order of magnitude of percentage change (or as best I remember it) in hits on day I was tweeted/reblogged/whatever.
- Brad Delong (est. 1005%)
- Modeled Behavior (est 610%)
- Justin Wolfers (304%)
- Tyler Cowen (144%)
- Marc Bellemare (est 50%)
- Brett Keller (20%)
As I see it, my analysis suffers from a few big problems:
- heterogeneity of tweets/posts might change click-through rates (did they retweet/reblog because I said something antagonistic about Gary Becker, or just mentioned them, or something else entirely? Did the retweet or reblog contain a link to this blog?).
- Serial autocorrelation (If hits are high on one day, they’re bound to be high on the next as people read through recent blog entries and tweets, and when retweets were close together, I could be attributing hits to one when they belong to another).
- Trend over time is also partially due to people coming back because they found me interesting (different, but related to 2, and impossible to know how big or small it is).
- the time of day. It’s pretty well established that tweets in the morning and mid-afternoon get the most views (or so I am told–please don’t quote me), so retweets/blogs will have differential effects given when both I and the retweeter publish the post. I don’t control for this. (also, days on this blog are on Mountain Time. Colorado, I just don’t know how to quit you. No, really, I don’t know to change it.)
- unknown retweets/reblogs
- Popularity of other blogs. (For instance, MB bump came before the Time list of top tweeters came out, so their bump may be even bigger now)
Please don’t judge me (for not controlling for obvious variables. You can judge me for writing this post; that’s fine.)
As the semester goes on, my Methods students have more and more tools with which to analyze current events in economics, and ideas they encounter in their classes. A few students put together some thoughts on their blogs about recent visitors including Nate on George DeMartino and Andy on Hanushek.
I’m happy to see my students talking about what they’re seeing, but it’s also a reminder that I may need to talk a little bit more about dummy variables before the semester is up.
My post on Hanushek and Reschovsky is here. Sadly, I didn’t make it to DeMartino.