Reflections on the TIP Econ Workshop

Over the past several postings I’ve been writing about the June 2006 Teaching Innovations Program in Economics Workshop. Now that it’s over, I’d like to draw some conclusions.

This workshop was quite unusual in a number of respects. The most important was the tone of the workshop. At most research conferences, the tone of the sessions is adversarial—the speaker presents his research and the audience attempts to find flaws in it, often aggressively. This was absolutely not the case for the TIP Workshop. From the beginning, the tone was collaborative. The audience was here to learn and the speakers were here to teach. We wanted the speakers to be successful. In this regard the TIP Workshop reminded me a lot of the Educause Learning Initiative Annual Meetings.

This similarity leads to the second unusual aspect of the workshop. One of the novelties of the ELI Meetings has been that they don’t end when the meeting is over. More precisely, because many of the sessions are podcast, it is possible to relive the presentations and even hear for the first time presentations one was unable to attend.

The TIP Program takes this a step further. The workshop is only the beginning of the program. The program actually includes three parts: The workshop is the first. The second is essentially an on-line course in Blackboard that enables us to complete modules in our choice of two of the active-learning techniques we were introduced to in the workshop. These modules include:

• Case Studies
• Context Rich Problems
• Cooperative Learning
• Class Discussion
• In-class Experiments
• Active Learning in Large Lecture Courses
• Formative Assessment

The modules, which were developed by expert practitioners in economics, include additional readings, and a series of assignments leading up to a plan we design for incorporating the technique in a course. Participating in a module buys us a consulting relationship with the expert who provides feedback on our plan before we implement it.

The third part of the program is the opportunity to present our experiences at regional and national economics conferences. All along we get to stay in touch and work with the individuals we met at the workshop. How cool is that?

Regarding the workshop, there was so much content packed into a short time frame, almost more than I could assimilate. The next step for me will be to read the detailed material in the briefing book we were given that goes into more detail than was possible to present during the workshop. Then I will move on to the follow-up Bb seminar.

For topics I knew something about already, e.g. class discussion, the workshop really taught me a lot. I had the context to see applications that would work for me. For topics I didn’t know a lot about already, e.g. context-rich problems, it was hard for me the get it in the short time available. I found myself thinking I should explore this topic more deeply. In retrospect, though, I’ve decided I’d rather spend my time going into more depth on the topics I already know. I wonder how those workshop participants completely new to these active-learning techniques reacted.

One more observation: Each of the three instructors at the workshop presented on two active-learning techniques: one which was their specialty and one which was not. My evaluation of the sessions from best to worst had the three sessions presented by the specialists ranked before those presented by non-specialists. I’ve chosen to pursue two of the best three, class discussion and cooperative learning, as my Blackboard modules. I wonder if my choices were based on the relative expertise demonstrated by the instructors. I wonder if others in the workshop had the same reaction. I wonder if the module choices of the Chicago workshop, which was taught last month by the other three “experts,” were different from ours. If that’s true, I wonder if that warrants any change in the program.

In looking back, I realize that the active learning techniques from this workshop fit well in my goal of changing the content of my principles course from lecture to non-lecture.

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One Response to Reflections on the TIP Econ Workshop

  1. Gardner says:

    Shrewd design! Gives me ideas. I do mourn (of course) the fact that cool stuff is locked away in a walled garden–especially if that garden is Blackboard. But that only increases my gratitude to the bloggers (or blogger–did anyone else there blog?) who give us the inside scoop. Thanks!

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