Don’t start down that slippery slope!

The seminar has finished a first attempt at fleshing out the research question we will investigate.  We then chose books for small groups to acquire and read prior to reporting out to the class.  For the last week or so, I’ve been presenting some of the tools of international finance (that would be the course content in a more traditional course), tools that students will need as they make progress in our research.  During this time, I’ve gotten the sense that some students are not really engaged, that they are not reading the books assigned because they think they have plenty of time for that later.  This shows up in the lack of comments in class and also the lack of blogging by some.

This behavior makes sense from the perspective of a student, but not from the perspective of a research associate.  What to do about this?

It would very easy to react by threatening a quiz or otherwise imposing penalties; indeed, that was the first thing that came to my mind.  I know it would work, because I have enough teaching experience to create a set of incentives so that students will do what I want.  But I had to tell myself, DON’T GO DOWN THAT ROAD, since it would compromise the research team ethos I’m trying to build for this course.  A research team leader wouldn’t say “I’m going to dock you 10 points for not reading!”  What would he or she do?

Part of this is my fault.  I implicitly assumed that the students would be doing what I would do.  But I am the one with the most experience doing research.  I haven’t communicated well enough to them, or provided enough structure for them to see what they should be doing.

To that end, today I will revisit our research question matrix.  I will create three groups of students:  One to investigate the financial aspects of the Euro problem; one to investigate the economic aspects and one to investigate the political aspects.  I organized the groups so that most of the financial group is business students; most of the economic group is economics majors; and most of the political group is international affairs.  But each group also has one member from each of the other majors.  The other thing I incorporated is that each group has someone who read each of the assigned books.  I will charge each group with identifying their respective aspects and reporting back in two weeks.  I will also give them time to organize groups today.

And I will encourage them to blog what they’re finding, and any questions they find.


Image courtesy of Paul Graham Raven (via flickr)

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