A few weeks ago I mentioned my idea for a very different approach to teaching ECON 304, my intermediate macro course. This is the first week of classes, so I guess I better figure out how this is going to work. As I introduced the students to the course on Monday, I told them that whatever they had heard about the course was no longer relevant since this semester we are doing it totally differently, and as a consequence they might want to consider taking the course another term. I made this suggestion for two reasons, first, because this really is an experiment and I don’t know how it will turn out, and second, because at the current class size of 35-40 students, a book study could be ungainly. Since Monday, the enrollment has changed a bit–it increased by one student. I guess they didn’t get the message.
So what is my plan? I plan to run this course using a version of “Just-in-Time” teaching. The idea is simple and derives in part from my experiment over the last few years to teach my intro students to think like experts instead of novices. Whether it will work in practice, though, remains to be seen. Students will need to read each chapter in the text and write an analysis of it, turning it in by the night before we begin discussion of the chapter.
I plan to ask students to do this analysis in groups of two or three, in part to make the paper load more manageable, but also because I hope students will benefit from discussing what to include. Each analysis will have three parts: first, students need to identify the main point of the chapter. Second, they need to identify and briefly explain the key elements of the chapter. Third, they need to identify all the key things they don’t understand from the chapter. The morning of the discussion (class meets at 1pm) I will quickly look over the analyses and then copy all the questions students identify into the course wiki, where I will sort them from most frequently mentioned to least. These questions will provide the content for our class sessions.
I’m not going to grade the analyses per se, though I will give credit for completing the assignment assuming they made a genuine effort. The real purpose of the analyses is to get them to think about the chapter and identify what they don’t understand. The next level of the course will occur on the wiki, where collectively we will sort out the meaning of each chapter. Students can use their analyses to start this process, and collectively we’ll make sure the final analysis is correct. I’m still thinking this part through since I’ve never facilitated a wiki with a group this large before. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
Does this approach require a lot of buy in on the students’ part? Yes. What if it doesn’t happen? It could be ugly. Still, the initial response seems heartening. We’ll see.