My passion for teaching extends to several areas. Through introductory courses, in both microeconomics and macroeconomics, I hope to excite and surprise non-majors by teaching them how to apply economic thinking to their own interests. I have also enjoyed teaching intermediate courses – especially intermediate microeconomics and econometrics – for students majoring in economics or related fields, because these courses build on basic economic intuition and allow for more complex analysis and deeper discussion of economic theory applied to real-world settings.
In my time at Furman and NCSU, I have enjoyed teaching applied microeconomics, especially environmental and development economics.
Finally, two courses I plan to develop are an experimental course and a behavioral course. The experimental course I envision would cover experimental design as well as coding in an experimental software like Ztree, Otree, or SurveyMonkey, combined with the use of a statistical software, such as Excel, Stata, SAS, SPSS, or R. The main objective for students in this course would be a semester project that requires a hypothesis, data collection, data analysis, and a final report. The behavioral course would include several topics in game theory as well as discussions of behavioral results from the economics and psychology literatures. Given the nature of these subjects, I believe they would be great cross-over courses with Psychology or a related department.
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While content-oriented goals differ from course to course, I am guided by the same core philosophy in each course, lecture, and question I ask: that learning is a cooperative exchange of ideas which takes place when all parties are motivated, committed, and rational. This personal philosophy is based on the premises that a) both teacher and students must be willing and engaged before learning can take place; b) both teacher and students must take responsibility for their own roles in the process via time, attention, and effort; and c) learning consists of the development of a framework of logical reasoning and its application from one situation to another. Thus, I have identified three primary goals which I consistently strive to meet for myself and encourage in my students: build and sustain enthusiasm for the subject and the learning process as a whole; take personal responsibility and commit resources to it; and follow and demonstrate logical patterns of objective analysis and evaluation, i.e. critical thinking.
I work hard to share my own enthusiasm for economics with all of my students because I believe an interest in the subject gives students more endurance to learn and retain the material. A quick method I use to engage students in the topic of the day is to make witty remarks or puns related to the content. I have observed that if I can evoke one laugh — or groan — the entire class will perk up. Throughout the semester, I work to build a deeper enthusiasm for the subject by helping students understand how economics relates to them on a personal level. In macroeconomics, for example, we discuss political platform issues like a minimum wage or tax policy. Students learn the important assumptions and incentives that can lead to different outcomes and ultimately are able to provide a logical explanation of their political beliefs. In all of my classes, I stress that economics is the study of decision-making and that economic concepts can apply to any choice a person may face. Students show evidence of this understanding by submitting project topics ranging from stock prices to baseball salaries and from global literacy rates to the value of children’s card games. Opening up students’ understanding of the subject also leads students to be more inquisitive in class, often prompting questions and discussion about topics that are not covered in the book or lecture such as the Monty Hall problem in an econometrics course. I am proud to say that I have learned a great deal from my students and their project assignments over my five years of teaching at NCSU.
Along with building enthusiasm and excitement for economics, I enable students to take more responsibility for their learning. Practicing responsibility prepares students for life outside of school and gives them ownership of every step in their learning process. Thereafter, students are responsible for keeping up with all homework, project, and exam due dates. Taking responsibility for one’s own success, however, does not mean working alone. I encourage students to build relationships with classmates, often asking students to work in small groups on worksheets for the more complex models we cover. This leads students to practice the problems, discuss techniques and implications, and reinforce understanding by teaching each other. Most importantly, students work with me. In office hours, I work with students individually to help them optimize their learning. Asking students to explain course content to me helps reinforce their competencies and shed light on their weaknesses. In class, I often ask students to indicate by a quick show of hands — or by vote on an anonymous app — whether they feel confident in their understanding, unsure, or completely lost. When students take responsibility for their learning, they are more willing to ask questions and direct our conversations.
Another important part of asking students to take responsibility for their learning is to demonstrate that I also take responsibility for my role in their education. After exams, I ask students to fill out an anonymous questionnaire: 1) Did you earn the grade you expected to earn? 2) Is there anything you can do to improve your performance on the next exam? 3) Is there anything I can do to help you improve your performance on the next exam? Completing this survey reminds students that they are not entitled to any particular grade and demonstrates to them that I am rooting for their success and am not an obstacle to it. I find that after answering this questionnaire, students are more likely to improve their study habits and to take advantage of resources such as additional materials posted on the website or open office hours. Because students take responsibility for their learning, they also take pride in their success.
While enthusiasm and responsibility are first steps, critical thinking is the ultimate goal. As a teacher, I believe I can offer every student, regardless of major, the opportunity to build and improve on their own existing knowledge and abilities. And, as an economics enthusiast, I am uniquely qualified to demonstrate to students the utility of applying an economic perspective to any situation they may encounter. Students and I have taken on several different topics in economics, but we often come back to the core logic that is the basis of introductory economics. The topic of the day may be the adoption of hybrid crop seeds, but analysis boils down to costs and benefits and policy implications boil down to incentives. By encouraging students to apply these foundational concepts time and again to different topics, they become competent in doing economics on their own and outside of the classroom. In class, I challenge students to consider complications by leading them through a series of questions. For example, several of the students in my environmental economics class own and work on farms. After using a mathematical or graphical model to identify the most efficient level of fertilizer for farmers to use, students sometimes ask why they shouldn’t simply use the recommendation on the fertilizer packaging. I first ask the student to consider who has standing in the situation. If we decide that the fertilizing farmer and surrounding residents all have standing, then I ask the students to consider the possible externalities and their marginal costs and benefits for the community. We continue on to discuss what policies and incentives are in effect for the fertilizer company when they define recommended doses and generally finish with a question of whether to enact policy and how to enforce that policy. Though some students may not use explicit economic models in their careers, discussion like this helps train them to apply rational critical thinking to their analysis of any impending decision.
I also encourage students to focus on their own learning styles. In class, we often discuss concepts in multiple ways so that students can focus on the graph, equation, or story that resonates most clearly with them. When discussing tax analysis, for example, introductory students often assume a tax on consumers will lead to a different result than a tax on producers. We discuss why that is not the case, focusing on how producers could pass some of the tax burden onto consumers and why a tax on consumers will generally lower the equilibrium price and quantity for producers. I follow that discussion with a graphical presentation of the two taxes and ultimately introduce the mathematical model.
Eventually, I assess students’ ability to work through this process on their own by assigning homework and writing exams which require students to explain their process in addition to providing a final answer. After receiving feedback from students, I started to design test questions which help guide students through this process. For example, when students use data about sample size, mean, and standard deviation for two groups, rather than asking them if the two means are the same, I break down the question into 4 parts: (a) Specify the two-tailed alternative hypothesis (b) Find the difference in height and the standard error of the difference (c) Generate a 95% confidence interval for the difference in height (d) Using your confidence interval above, evaluate your null hypothesis. In this way, I can assess a student’s mastery of concepts as well as her competency in doing economics.
Through building an enthusiasm for the subject, students are more willing to attend lecture and engage with the material. Because they are responsible for their own success, students work harder and take more pride in their successes. In improving their critical thinking skills, students are better able to approach new situations and problems in an organized way. I find that these three goals result in students retaining more information and being better able to apply that information. These students, then, are better prepared for future courses in economics and for adapting what they learned to contexts outside of the classroom. As a teacher, I see the bigger picture for my students is to take pride in their learning and discover how to create new knowledge.