THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

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Issue 40, Spring 2011

William A. McEachern, Editor

TWENTY YEARS, TWENTY TWEETS

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 www.cengage.com/economics/mceachern/theteachingeconomist. 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 Ratemyprofessors.com 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)

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