Redesigning Microeconomics – Reflections

~600 words, ~3 min reading time

This semester I redesigned my Principles of Microeconomics course. I want to give a brief run-down of what happened and thoughts for going forward.

(1) Engagement/Mastery division – I still like this idea, though since I’m switching to specs grading (more detail in a later blog post), the “weighting” of each will go away. But, I think it is helpful to be clear with yourself what the point of an assessment is. Is it simply to get students to engage with the material, or is it to test students’ mastery of the material? It is helpful to separate the two.

(2) Short Paper process – This semester, I required rough draft, peer reviews, and final copy (including a response to peer reviews). I’m scrapping the process in the future. Or, rather, I’m making it optional. The justification for the process was twofold: (1) students write better for each other than for professors, and (2) students understand comments from other students better than from professors. Students that I talked to were mixed about the value of the peer review process’s value for them. And, from the reviews I read, a lot of them were pretty useless. As such, they were mostly busywork rather than meaningful.

(3) Engagement activity options – Students were a little confused by the fact that they had choices, but this went okay. One tweak: I’m going to scatter due dates through the semester rather than have everything due at the end, just for the sake of grading sanity.

(4) Grade proposal – Scrapping this. Most of them were written by students who had earned an A anyway. A few were by students who did worse – but they were rarely very convincing. Also, they didn’t prevent grade-grubbing. On the whole, I think was pretty useless.

(5) Comprehensive Final & Midterm Diagnostics (not for a grade) – I liked this. Building in a buffer worked, and scores turned out okay – no worse than when I used non-comprehensive tests.

(6) Class attendance – not going to be part of the grade going forward. Including it in the grade led to some students coming who were WAY disengaged in their time in the classroom, and others grubbing their attendance. Strong correlation between attendance and other grade elements suggest this is not necessary.

(7) Class preparation questions – went pretty well, though I need to refine them. Multiple choice need to be sure to reflect the final exam to some degree, and short answer should be more closely linked to Bloom’s taxonomy levels. I also asked students for “curiosity questions” that could be used to inform the class if time permitted. Scrapping these. Students often used these not for curiosity/discussion questions, but for “here’s a topic I don’t understand” questions.

(8) Flipping the classroom – worked pretty well. Class time was more focused on covering what students didn’t understand – so less wasted time. Classroom response system (“Plickers”) worked well, though I need to assign them at the beginning of the semester rather than have students pick them up and turn them in each time. I still need to work some on becoming a less-awful discussion facilitator.

Going Forward

Apart from changes listed above, I think that switching to Specs grading will be good. I’ve also debated switching to a more problem-based learning format, but don’t currently feel confident in making that switch for Principles of Micro. However, it might make sense to design my Environmental Economics course around this format…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *