Economics, MOOCs, syllabus

Economics research and some MOOC thoughts

I want to write a post about students calling for an overhaul of how Economics is taught. You have probably seen the posts – too mathematical, more heterodox stuff…(yada, yada). I think there is a possible project in there – asking fourth years about this, maybe starting a blog on which they can help co-create a syllabus. I’m going to get a team together and do something like this for a paper at next year’s ESSA conference. But at the moment I can’t make the time for enough reading for a sensible post. Give me a shout if this sounds like something you and your students would be interested in.

I have written about MOOCs before and following my reading of Average is over I also think that there are limits to what students will teach themselves online. There is a big role for professor as missionary and coach, and face-to-face higher ed is here to stay. And then I had my ideas confirmed by a post at the Education Outrage blog. It makes some good points, for example:

What is education? Its an experience, mentored by an expert, in which the student tries to accomplish something, fails, and then after some discussion with peers and mentors, tries again.
This is not a new idea, Most PhD programs work this way. But since universities care about undergraduates just enough to require a thousand of them to fill a lecture hall, now they are doing it online so the numbers can get much bigger. It’s all about money. (And, to be honest, the fear of seeming to be falling behind.)

For me the big insight was how boring those lectured captured MOOC video’s are. Watch any of them, or watch all that the post links to – you will have to be really motivated to work through a whole course like that on your own. I doubt if many of my students are. And that probably means that they are coming to class for other reasons than to hear me speak.

Luckily we are close to the end of the semester now, with more sensible posts (and hopefully classes) to follow after the exam.

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blended learning, economics education, education research, SoTL

More on SoTL

At the end of last month I wrote a short post on the scholarship of teaching-learning and my concerns about the idea that lecturers can easily publish a bit of research about their teaching. The past two days I have attended a workshop on blended learning and how one would do research about blended learning. I learned a few interesting things.

The workshop was presented by Anthony Picciano of CUNY (check out his blog here) and hosted by by a new research entity at the Vaal Triangle Campus called TELHE: Technology Enhanced Learning for Higher Education.

We covered some of the issues in doing education research, the grand debate on the medium vs the message, research paradigms, methodologies and methods. Tony also outlined some topics for research in education technology.

If you are interested mainly in the education technology part, he also has a nice SlideShare presentation called Blending with purpose.

For me the best part was the prescribed reading. He provided us with examples of different questions and different methods used in this line of research:

  • Bowen et al. looks at interactive learning online at public universities. It is about the impact of interactive online learning on student outcomes. These are compared to more traditional face-to-face instruction using RCTs and speaks to an economist’s post-positivism heart.
  • Han & Hill examines online discussions, and uses discourse analysis. The idea of collaborative, co-creation of knowledge is something that economists would think about in terms of networks, or learning-by-doing, but putting it in the education context and using discourse analysis is something else.
  • There were also two chapters from a book by Picciano et al. that I cannot link to. The one looked at student perspectives of engagement in a blended course and used a survey + a blog for some participatory action research. The other was about lecturers’ perspectives of workload when they tackled online learning and used interviews and focus groups.

I still don’t think that it will be easy for a regular economist to do research in this field. Just because you like to flip the class room, maybe blend face-to-face with online video’s, quizzes or run a class blog, does not mean that you can easily publish papers about it. There will be lots of theories and new methods to learn. But it can definitely be interesting.