The other week, I blogged about my students backchanneling during my class via IM. Martha suggested we try to formalize that arrangement on the course website. She and Jerry (or was it Jerry and she?) installed a chat box on the course homepage which you can see on the right hand side.
I planned an exercise in class that I hoped would exploit the chat box. I have been modeling the process an economist might use to do a research project, in the form of the project I am currently doing in parallel with the projects my students are doing this semester.
Today I planned to demonstrate how an economist uses economic theory to derive insights about a research question. To that end, I presented a fairly simple, but theoretical analysis of the effects of outsourcing on labor markets in the U.S. and China. I told students that I would give them my notes, so in lieu of writing down what I was presenting, I wanted them to think of questions the answers to which would give a richer understanding of the issues being discussed. As examples, I suggested they could ask how many U.S. jobs have been outsourced or how low Chinese wages are. I concluded by asking that each student try to post at least one question.
This turned out to be a complete bust. After class, I looked at the chat box. The students had been chatting all right, but not a single student had posted a question of the type I was looking for. Did they not understand what I was asking them to do? Did the public nature of the forum, where they could see what the others were posting, create negative spillovers in that since no one was posting questions, individuals felt comfortable not posting themselves? Something to ponder.