Sunday, 26 May 2013

ECON-1 videos for the flipped classroom

This semester I used Explain Everything to add audio and annotations to PPT slides and make short videos for the flipped classroom. The idea is that the order of a contact session is flipped around: the students watch the videos as preparation and spend the time in class discussing and problem solving. I don't have to give a boring lecture and they don't have to listen to one - there is a video for that. My videos look like this:

This weekend I decided to have a quick look at the views that they got over the semester. The videos were uploaded on the module's eFundi site (our LMS) and on YouTube. The number clicks (don't know if they were viewed all the way through) on eFundi were:

EE_Movie_chap 1.mp4 752
EE_Movie_hst 1.mp4 772
EE_Movie_chap 2.1.mp4 294
EE_Movie_hst 2.1.mp4 445
EE_Movie_chap 2.2.mp4 230
EE_Movie_hst 2.2.mp4 331
EE_Movie_chap 2.3.mp4 202
EE_Movie_hst 2.3.mp4 390
EE_Movie_chap 3.mp4 154
EE_Movie_hst 3.mp4 449
EE_Movie_chap 4.1.mp4 203
EE_Movie_hst 4.1.mp4 387
EE_Movie_chap 4.2.mp4 132
EE_Movie_hst 4.2.mp4 306
EE_Movie_chap 4.3.mp4 115
EE_Movie_hst 4.3.mp4 261
EE_Movie_chap 4.4.mp4 96
EE_Movie_hst 4.4.mp4 274
EE_Movie_chap 7.1.mp4 142
EE_Movie_hst 7.1.mp4 274
EE_Movie_chap 7.2.mp4 106
EE_Movie_hst 7.2.mp4 248
EE_Movie_chap 7.3.mp4 88
EE_Movie_hst 7.3.mp4 206
EE_Movie_chap 7.4.mp4 69
EE_Movie_hst 7.4.mp4 187

EE_Movie_hst 7.5.mp4 212

That is a total of 7325 clicks and an average of 338 for the Afrikaans versions and 198 for the English versions. I hope to be able to split this between students in my group and those from other groups. For all the ECON111 students of around 1150 students, the average views are low, but my group was only 250. I wonder if the videos will be used much for revision before the exam.

Is it worth the effort? It is impossible to tell if it made much of a difference to student performance. We always have a look at the correlation between module marks and number of videos watched but that won't say anything about causation. I do think that it made a difference to the time spent in class. At least I enjoyed not giving a boring lecture and rather working through exercises and presenting interesting examples.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The poor should unite in favour of e-tolls!

Dear readers, apologies that I have to make another post on e-tolls. The implimentation, interdict against it, protests etc have dragged on for a while now and once a year someone needs to say something in favour of user charges.

At the moment e-tolls is the issue that is uniting some very divergent interests in South Africa. In one way or another the opoosition to urban tolling has receieved support from Cosatu, the Congress of SA Students; the SA Students Congress; the SA National Civic Organisation; the United Association of Taxis Forum; the Treatment Action Campaign; the National Association of National School Governing Bodies; the National Taxi Forum; and Bikers Against E-tolls. I am sure that I recall a news story about Afriforum being opposed to it and in the Western Cape the DA is not impressed either. The SA Council of Churches and the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC) are now also lending their active support and Cosatu Gauteng secretary Dumisani Dakile told reporters "...even if Jesus Christ was alive today, he would be leading this protest [against e-tolls]". Read the whole Times Live story here.

Now I understand that people do not want to pay for something that used to be free, but the opposition are not really making their arguments against e-tolls very clear. Are they worried about the impact on consumers' budgets and consequently their spending and the economy at large? Are they worried about an inflationary effect and the economy at large? Has any of these groups tried to quantify this.

In an article in the Daily Maverick the DA's Ian Ollis argues that the need for e-tolling stems from decades of poor maintenance, inadequate investment and inefficienct and ineffective use of available funds. The only way out of this mess is 
A dedicated, road maintenance fund – sourced primarily from the fuel levy – would ensure regular supply of funds to address the road maintenance backlog and eliminate the need for excessive tolls to fund road maintenance.
What I don't inderstand is how this will be different in terms of impact on consumers and pressure on inflation. The key difference is that instead of Gauteng road users paying for the benefits that they receive from nice new highways, everyone will pay. In addition, with e-tolls, it is car owners who pay the tolls and they have some ability to pay. If everyone who uses fuel has to contribute through an increased fuel levy it is inefficient and unfair - let's use the word: regressive. The country's poor should unite in favour of e-tolls paid by the car owners of Gauteng!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Visa's for UK visitors to SA?

I am only now catching up with this latest installment of poor policy decisions:
Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor reportedly said in Parliament last week that, with Britain seemingly reluctant to lift the visa requirements for South Africans which were instituted amid the forgery of passports four years ago, this country might "consider reciprocity".
John Robbie tweeted this morning:
In both cases, whether it is "reciprocity" or "standing up for ourselves", it is madness to make it more difficult for people who want to come and spend pounds in South Africa. The UK is the number one developed country source of tourists to South Africa.

And Stellenbosch Prof Sanette Ferreira has already said that we probably do not have the administrative capacity to run such a visa system. Read the MoneyWeb story here.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

More links that I liked

Everyday I see loads of interesting things on the internet via Twitter and different blogs. Typically the articles or posts get a quick scan and then saved to Evernote. I was tagging and sorting some links today and found a few nice ones from the last week or so to share:
  • From the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, some research that I am also interested in for the South African contex: Do big cities help college graduates find better jobs?
  • The Guardian Africa Network has an excellent post: In search of the African middle class. It is something that is punted everywhere as a key driver of growth over the next few years, but the post shows that this has to be taken with a good grain of salt. Yes, many people are getting out of extreme poverty, but the middle class is only the middle of a very skewed income distribution. "The Africa Bank of Development defines "middle class" as those spending between $2 and $20 per day. By its own admission though, about 60% of those only spend between $2 and $4 per day".
  • Via Marginal Revolution blog Andrew Oswald has some good advice for young researchers:
If everyone likes your work, you can be certain that you haven’t done anything important. Conflict and pain go with the territory –
that of changing how a profession thinks and furthering what we know about our world. The pressures on young researchers are to conform, to accept fashionable ways of analyzing problems, and above all to please senior professors and their own peers. Unfortunately this is bad for scientific progress.
The main difference between world-class researchers and sound researchers is not intellect; it is energy, single-mindedness, more energy, and the ability to withstand what will sometimes feel like never-ending disappointment, tiredness and psychological pain. Tenacity is almost everything.
  •  I am still planning that ultimate MOOC post, but this one by Nathan Heller in The New Yorker comes close to drawing together a lot of the views out there: Laptop U.
  • Inside Higher Ed reported on a new test of non-academic predictors of academic success - a suite of attributes that some researchers have dubbed "grit".
  • And finally Edudemic had a nice post on using badges in your classroom. I still ant to try this in the second semester.
That's it for now. Enjoy.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Cupcake deflation in the US

Yesterday Justin Wolfers spotted cupcake deflation in the US and made a bunch of funny tweets commenting on the way different people are currently seeing the US economy and macro policy. I was quick with a Storify and got a hat tip!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Things I never knew about running a Facebook page

I am our School's social media marketing enthusiast and very proud of our Facebook page and blog. I am also a complete amateur in this game. Most of my time goes into finding content to share, or writing up the new stuff colleagues are busy with, and not enough effort goes into learning more about the tools. I learned a lot recently about promoting Facebook posts (with a hat tip to Jaco van der Merwe who pointed me in the right direction).

When you have page with 963 likes, I thought that means that all of them see your posts. This is not the case. There are two things at work here: first, most people do not return to a page very often once they have "liked" it and second, Facebook uses a so-called Edgerank alogrithm to determine who see what in their timeline. For our 900 plus likes we get an average of 300 views of a post.

The Edgerank algorith considers three elements: affinity, weight and time decay, in determining who sees a post. I don't want to go into the details here, but if you are interested there is a nice explanation with infographic at Hubspot. And then there are different ways to boost your posts:
  • You cannot do much about time decay - posts grow old.
  • You can increase the weigthing of your posts by mixing up what you post: text, links, photos, video.
  • You can try ways to trick the algorith into thinking that people have a greater affinity for your page that they might actually  have. Here are a few ideas about posting pictures of cute kittens or kids.
The alternative is to just pay Facebook to push your post. And that is what the graph at the top shows. The twin peaks are two promoted posts for the School's open day. Around 4000 people saw each of the posts and we got 15 new likes during that period. I took the cheaper options and the two promotions cost about R300 in total.

Is it worth it? You certainly get the views, but I don't know if that translated into anything more. And if I want the new likes to keep seeing our posts I'd better keep up a steady cash infusion for promotion or start posting those cute pictures. Meet Haruki, the Econ hound:

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A few thoughts on management and dashboards

I am coing up to one year in my management job at the end of this semester and often hope that I am doing more good than harm. Last week I found a post that made me think about different approaches to the job.

Chris Blattman wrote a post in response to Bill Gates' write up of Morten Jerven's book Poor numbers. Gates wrote that more resources need to be devoted to get basic GDP number right. Blattman responded that everyone would like to see better GDP numbers, but it is not really a top-ten constraint facing poor countries. He sums it up as:
The problem with those of us in the development complex, be we academics or Presidents or foundations or NGOs, is we want the world nicely ordered with levers to pull and a dashboard to monitor. And so we put a lot of energies into levers and dashboards and monitors.
Even if that is the way the world works, there is an opportunity cost and Blattman goes on to outline some of the other types of missing information that we also would  like to know more about.

Which brings me to my point about management and dashboards. I recently completed my own performance agreement. It is in dashboard, scorecard format on the intranet. It breaksdown the university's plan to a campus plan and "cascades" down from the rector, to the vice-rectors, to the dean's performance agreement. There are 187 target items have been weighed and will have to be scored at the end of the year.

I can see the appeal of doing it this way, it reduces complexity to lots of nice targets, it can be fine-tuned, the automation will save someone somewhere a bit of time. But I also have doubts about whether this is the way to ensure academic excellence (to the extent that any head of school can do that anyway). I want to throw out the questions to the academics out there:
  • What makes for a good Head of School / Chairperson / Director?
  • What are the things that we need to measure to manage?
I want to paraphrase Blattman: Reducing frictions and eliminating constraints is maybe the best thing outsiders managers can try to help with, freeing entrepreneurs and citizens academics to do their thing.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Links to share

Even now that I am stuck at home the recommended reading comes in from all over and I want to share a couple of links to posts that I have liked.
  • An interesting one at the NewGeography was on the size of manufacturing establishments in the US. It seems that work sites are getting smaller, firms are starting smaller and staying smaller. The average manufacturing establishment was home to 35 jobs in 2012.
  • Linking on to that, a new paper in the Journal of African Economies asks whether Africa can industrialise - in other words "what will it take for the typical low-income economy in Africa to accelerate the shift of labor from low productivity jobs in agriculture and the informal sector to higher productivity jobs in agro-industry, manufacturing or tradable services?" The paper goes on to argue that the required structural change has not taken place and that Africa faces a different industrialisation challenge to the one that earlier entrants into manufacturing did. It recommends three interrelated initiatives: "tilting towards exports, encouraging agglomerations and building capabilities—as essential complements to investment climate reforms".

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Links for academics

This week I came across a few nice posts for academics. You don't have to be an economist, young or established academic to hopefully find this interesting as well:
  • GradHacker blog explains how you should think about your PhD as a research apprenticeship.
  • Indecision blog explains that it takes time to find your research "thing". One good point: "rather than trying to decide what you should do, think about: what do I keep coming back to every time I come up with ideas?"
  • At The Economist's View, Mark Thoma writes about the time he discovered an error in a Bernanke & Blinder paper in AER, but then "author prestige" got in the way.
  • Following the Reinhart & Rogoff incident, Betsy Stevenson and Justin Wolfers provides some tips on how non-experts and policymakers can identify the good research out there.
  • Dave Giles at the Econometrics Beat had a nice post about when the adjusted R-squared will increase.
Enjoy them.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

"Special" Economic Zones

The Bill for Special Economic Zones is out and a hat tip goes to Ed Kerby for sharing some nice links on Twitter this week. One of the best is this Business Day opinion piece by Leon Louw of the Free Market Foundation. He smartly argues that:
  • There is nothing special about them: They are not off shore, nor are they tax havens, they have not been freed from forex or financial controls and all labour laws are also in place.
  • There are too many: "We will start with twice as many SEZs as China did with 30 times our population", which means no focus or momentum.
I have also complained about the SEZs and the latest old ideas in industrial policy, but the sort version of it all is that the economics of it all does not hold up. The whole ideas supposes that there is some kind of market failure that prevent private firms from identifying profitable opportunities. However, if government designates an area as a SEZ and adds some of the tax payers' money to it (mainly infrastructure and some incentives), firms will find those opportunities there. The economics is that:
  • If they really want to make it profitable, they will really have to make some big exceptions, like those mentioned above. But those are typically not very sustainable or equitable anyway.
  • If they are hoping for agglomeration benefits and learning by doing in SEZ, it will be much better to provide the infrastructure and incentives at current agglomerations instead of in the middle of nowhere. Firms need a think labour market, specialised suppliers of intermediate inputs, infrastructure and knowledge spillovers and those are available mainly in Gauteng, Cape Town, Durban and PE. No sense it trying to recreate all that elsewhere.
But then I suppose the government likes to be seen to be doing something and SEZs sound nice. The benefits will go to quite specific people and places and the cost will be nicely spread over all tax payers.