Sunday, 4 January 2015


Dear occasional readers,

During 2014 this blog experience secular stagnation of a sort and in 2015 I plan for it to go into hibernation. I want to redirect you to the two other blogs that I hope to put some effort into:
  • The one is the blog of the School of Economics. The plan is to focus on the research outputs of my colleagues and to make their reviews and analysis accessible to other academics, students, policymakers (and whoever else might be interested). I also hope to share some news with our alumni and share resources aimed specifically at our post-graduate students.
  • The other is a spin-off from the School's blog. Last year I started to add Economics content linked to the high school curriculum and now you can find it at The idea is to inspire the next generation of Economics students by providing a one-stop portal for data, analysis and opinions about the South African economy. Here I find the inspiration in Marginal Revolution University's slogan: Learn, Teach, Share.
I hope to blog like there is no opportunity cost.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

There is an app for that!

Everybody know that I like to talk about higher ed and tech together: flipped classroom, MOOCs and all that. The flipped classroom is in fashion on the Potch campus this semester, but I have always been worried about what to do in the classroom if the students did the reading, or watched the video and completed the online MCQs before they get to the class. The examples on the internet show that you can then use the time for Socratic discussion, class debates, more in-class cooperative learning etc, but those examples are hardly ever in classes of 200 and more.

Of course you can just try old school cajoling of students until they answer your questions, or put up the MCQs and get some answers by show of hands. It takes a special sort of enthusiasm to "work" with 200 people at a time.

Another solution to flipping a massive class (is it distance learning beyond the third row anyway?) is to add more tech to the ed. There are some cool examples of BYOD classrooms, screen sharing and many different student response systems. Unfortunately, none of them work in the underground bunker that I am teaching ECON121 in.

Until this week when I discovered plickers. It works like the show of hands or clickers system, but the in-class response the students use printed QR-like codes.

  • We did elasticity this week - they have a textbook, study guide and some video's explaining it. I then recapped a few key points and showed a few examples.
  • Then we practice the calculation and interpretation. The multiple choice questions are up on the PPTs.
  • The students get the printed code that shows options A through D.
  • When they are ready to answer they show the code and I scan them with my smart phone's camera.
  • Then I add a bit more explanation and those that have questions ask.
And it worked really well. They enjoyed the novelty and the scanning is quick. On my phone I see the following after each question: Question 4 had options A through to D. You can type up the whole question but I did not bother. You cannot add you options, only which one is the correct option - in this case B. Here 14 students answered the question correctly, choosing option B. Only 2 chose A and 1 chose C. You can also see the number of the response card and the option that they chose. Here, number 9 was incorrect with option A.

In my class of 200+ this could work nicely for checking group participation. If I assign students to groups and I know who is group number 9 or 16 or 12, I know that they missed this bit of the work. In small groups every student can have their own card and participation can easily be linked back to their other marks.

It is clickers made simple. You can read more about the use of clickers here, or just Google "using clickers in class". There are loads of resources out there.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Submitting to that better class of journal

Last month at an ERSA Economic History workshop James Fenske shared some ideas about how to do and write up economic history research for submission to top-5 economics journals. That sets a particularly high bar, but I think that his ideas apply more generally to normal people's efforts to submit to a slightly better class of journal. I finally got around to writing it up for the School blog yesterday.