Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tech & Pop Culture in Teaching Econ

Posted by Simon Halliday | Saturday, September 11, 2010 | Category: , , |

On Thursday I gave a presentation at the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town about incorporating pop culture and better use of technology into your teaching.  I've been trying to experiment with various things in my teaching recently and I plan to experiment more in the future.

The talk began with a discussion of whether I think we should use slides or not.  I think we can (not necessarily should) use slides, but that they need to be of a very high quality and that they need to be designed with specific goals in mind.  For this, I discussed people like Edward Tufte, Garr Reynolds, Larry Lessig and I used Hans Rosling as someone who uses both analog and digital presentation props well, and from whom I think we can learn as instructors of economics.  I proceeded to discuss some useful databases that are out there and to which people can contribute: Movies for Econ and Music for Econ.  An example: I recently took it upon myself to use music videos in my lecture slides and tutorials and based questions and examples on these music videos (you'll see two of them in the presentation).  I moved on to look at various resources that are out there, both proprietary software that I use (Screenflow in Mac OS) and internet repositories for creative commons or shared products, e.g. for CC images, or Teaching Resources for Undergraduate Economics (TRUE) for economics. 

I also began to broach the topic of the challenges that I've faced in trying to innovate.  For example, the costs of bandwidth in South Africa force the university to adopt a 'Campus Internet Quota' (CIQ).  Because of the CIQ, students on campus are allowed approximately 200MB per month of external internet access.  Consequently, after I had uploaded my videos to Vimeo I was contacted by students staying in campus residences who said that they could not access the videos because they were too big and they'd exceeded their CIQs (the videos range from 80-120MB depending on the content).  This resulted in me having to work out work-arounds.  It was an education.

I concluded the discussion by bringing up 'open content' generally and the University of Cape Town's own attempts to move toward open content.  There are many examples of researchers and teachers trying to open up teaching and research:, MIT open courseware, etc.  I hope I can contribute in my small way as I go forward. 

There are all kinds of things I didn't get around to discussing: blogs, twitter, using an RSS feed (which is still a foreign concept for some), prezi.  I hope to write something more official on this topic using my experiences as a case study and I hope that I can make some more general points in the article.  We'll see what comes of it.

The presentation was received well by the members of the audience.  Many of the staff had not seen me present before or thought about this stuff became readily engaged and hope to look at a lot of this stuff in the future.  The problems are, obviously, the large fixed costs of getting to know the resources out there and the incentive problems that an academic faces when choosing whether to dedicate time to research or to teaching (with its attendant preparation).  I hoped to convince them that the spillovers, once you've incurred the initial high fixed costs, are valuable and will improve your presenting as you go forward in your career.  We've yet to see whether I'll be a case in support of this argument or not. 

h/t Stephen Kinsella for getting me to think more deeply about these topics and suggesting readings that got me onto this whole push for improved teaching and use of technology (or abandoning slideware entirely).   
h/t Lara Skelly who is the economics librarian at UCT.  She's done (and is doing) all kinds of good work and updating me on information and additional resources for open content, creative commons in teaching, and more.

Currently have 3 comments:

  1. Great lecture - thanks for posting it. Plenty of ideas I'd like to implement or experiment with, once I can count on facilities being available - there are still far too many lecture theatres at UCT which handicap these sorts of presentations.

  2. "200MB per month of external internet access"????

    What??!?! That's ridiculous! And I thought UKZN's 150mb a day (during office hours( and 1.5gb a day (after office hours) was ridiculous! You can't possibly use the internet that way!

    C'mon UCT ICT. Stop being such miserly assholes.

  3. For next year...there's actually a UCT version of single ladies, recorded in one of the Tampon Towers featuring students and cleaners - it's quite funny