THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

HomeAbout The Teaching Economist Contact the Editor Support

Issue 40, Spring 2011

William A. McEachern, Editor


This is the fortieth issue of The Teaching Economist, which I created twenty years ago. One way to mark the occasion is to offer twenty ideas from the twenty years. To save your time, I'll summarize each in the form of a Tweet—that is, in 140 characters or less (including spaces). If any Tweet-sized idea tweaks your curiosity, each entry is referenced by title and issue number; link to all issues at Ideas in The Teaching Economist come from my summaries of recent research by others, from contributors to "The Grapevine," and from me. To have good ideas about teaching we need a lot of ideas. Here, in chronological order, is a selection of twenty ideas from the first twenty years.

  • Like poets, economists must be keen observers of the world, using common experience to convey the relevance and vitality of economic ideas. ("The Poetry of Economics," 3)
  • Keep a file of exceptional questions from students. Perceptive or even off-the-wall questions can help us see material with fresh eyes. ("The Grapevine," 3)
  • Students who distract others in class impose negative externalities. Those who ask clarifying questions generate positive externalities. ("The Grapevine," 4)
  • Understanding the macroeconomy is like knowing the weather. You may not be able to change it, but at least you can adapt to it better. ("The Grapevine," 4)
  • Begin class with a five-minute review of key points covered in the previous two or three classes, then use that as a bridge to new material. ("The Rolling Review," 6)
  • Economic ideas abound in Shakespeare, such as sunk cost: "Things without all remedy should be without regard: what's done is done."-Macbeth ("The Evidence File," 9)
  • Don't expect students to ask questions. Ironically, the more confused they are, the fewer they ask. If they don't ask you, you ask them. ("Get Feedback," 16)
  • Three rules for a successful presentation are (1) have something worth saying, (2) say it well, and (3) get feedback. ("Any Questions?" 18)
  • Good questions are like gold; they make us better teachers. We must be especially inviting and non-threatening in eliciting such feedback. ("Any Questions?" 18)
  • Students attending a more selective college earned no more than those accepted by that same college but who chose a less selective one. ("Are Elite Colleges Worth It?" 18)
  • Don't let your presentations reduce to a rote transfer of your notes to the student's notes without passing through the minds of either. ("The Natural," 19)
  • Students asked to summarize class material during four-minute breaks later demonstrated more comprehension than other groups of students. ("Nota Bene," 20)
  • 16 of 32 high rated economists at were also judged to be "hot." Only 2 of the 32 low rated economists were judged hot. ("Good and Hot," 31)
  • Your course should not be some giant Easter-egg hunt. Your goals should be transparent. Students should be able to see right through you. ("Teaching, Thinking, and Learning," 34)
  • Student effort determines how much is learned, how well it's remembered, and under what conditions it's recalled and transferred. (Teaching, Thinking, and Learning," 34)
  • Desirable difficulties are challenging problems that may slow down students in the short run but seem to benefit long-term learning. ("Teaching, Thinking, and Learning," 34)
  • Be sure your class is not just a long string of explanations, a long list of answers, with few chances for students to solve problems. ("Thinking's Hard," 38).
  • College students today study about 40% less than they did in the 1960s, but their average grades are higher. ("Study Time Down, Grades Up. Any Questions?" 39).
  • Students who studied a text, tried to recall it, and repeated that did at least 40% better on later tests than those studying in other ways. ("Retrieval Tests Best," 40)
  • The long-term benefit of spacing out study sessions is one of the most robust findings in the history of experimental research on learning. ("The Grapevine," 40)

Top                                                                                                                                                                                          Next