A Note from the Trenches

Okay, I am deep in the trenches where it’s hard to recall the big picture of this experiment, so bear that in mind as you process what I’m about to say.

I just finished two days of lecturing on the income-expenditure model of GDP. This is the basic model of the macro economy that my students will learn this semester. (N.B. to Economists: Yes, I know this model is “old” and out of fashion, but it is the simplest and easiest model which allows students to address all the macro issues (including inflation) they need to in my course. And it is covered in an appendix in the Sexton text which I’m using.) As an analytical topic, this one needs a bit of lecturing on my part to make sure the students get it.

I was struck by two thoughts today. In the early class, I was reminded that lecturing on a topic I know and like is fun. It fact, it is much easier for me to lecture than to manage a class discussion, making sure that everyone who wishes has an opportunity to speak, and making sure that the points I think students need to consider get addressed. I also remembered that lecture can be an efficient way to get material across in a limited period of time. There’s not much that students need to reflect on at this stage. They just need to learn the mechanics of the model.

In the later class, I had a less attractive thought. Maybe I was tired; maybe it was the character of that group, or maybe it was that the second class meets in a dismal, dark hole of a classroom. But what struck me was that the dynamics of the class session were so different from what I’ve been experiencing this semester. In general, the students had their heads down as they struggled to take notes. They looked a bit like athletes near the end of a long race. The questions they raised almost exclusively asked me to repeat a point I’d just made. It seemed to me that there was little if any thinking going on–hopefully, that will come later as they review and reflect on their notes (the commentator asks uncertainly)?

Anyway it really struck me as different, almost retro, when compared with most of the class sessions we’ve had this semester. It was even different from the previous lectures I’d done on the theories of supply and demand. Why? Perhaps it’s because the income-expenditure model requires more background before students can actually work with the model. Or it’s because the text does a fine job of explaining supply and demand, while income-expenditure is relegated to an appendix. More to think about.

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