Students have a right to expect instructions
that are clear and that are not changed during the course. I know that I
and my TA's have tried many times to write questions for my health economics
class that can be interpreted only one way. Try as we might, it turns out
that they can often be interpreted more than one way. When students are
working through the problem and not facing a multiple choice test, they have no
problem telling me about the alternative interpretation of my instructions.
The students with the alternative interpretation, their classmates, and
the instructors all find this difficult and time consuming to deal with.
This is just on illustration of the need for and value of clear
Students like to know due dates.
They rarely complain when the due dates are moved to a later date.
I don't think I have ever shifted a due date to an earlier date.
Still, students in the setting in which I teach are taking classes in
eight week segments during which they are often facing 20 hours a week of
contact with faculty. This is a huge time investment and needs to be
planned for. Thus, making sure that the instructions are as clear as
possible on day one of a course is particularly helpful in my case, but this is
I think that the giving of instructions
can also be used to set expectations. A constant struggle at this point
in time is students in class with laptops. I know that many students like
to take notes directly on their laptops. Some schools have even invested
in software that facilitates direct annotation on pdf files. However,
some students when given the choice between paying attention or using the
wireless Internet will choose to use the wireless internet for
non-class-related purposes. On the one hand, students paying a lot of
money for their education have the choice of how to spend their class time.
On the other hand, and here it is particularly useful to teach economics,
there is an externality that is associated with non-class-related use of the
Internet. It does not affect only the student who is using the Internet
but the student's classmates as well. This would be a great way to
introduce the concept of externalities on day one of class (which is also particularly
relevant in public health) and then to set the expectation that students not do
What other expectations should be set?
I like to set expectations about participation and taking advantage of
the learning opportunities that are presented. I am a long distance
runner who is now training for my third half marathon with an eye toward my
second full marathon this October. In the 13-20 week training programs
for such events there are plans for running and fitness opportunities for every
day. Including, on some days, resting. If the runners follow the
directions of the coach, it maximizes the probability of success for the
runners. If we think of the students as analogous to the runners and the
instructor as analogous to the coach, the instructor plans a series of learning
opportunities. The students need to be encouraged to do them all--to take
advantage of them all--so that they will understand the bigger picture in which
the set of activities fits. Then, the students will maximize their
chances of learning and of deep understanding.
In economics and economic evaluation, I
particularly focus on giving students instructions on how to use the practice
examples that they are given, questioning and discussing the premises of
economics and the applications of economics, and using opportunities for group
learning appropriately to help with understanding the material. Just a
few comments on those. I try to give students two practice examples.
One that they will most likely do on their own. A second in a
group. Then they get assessed. I'll discuss this more later. Some
students don't find the time to do the practice. If they don't they will
miss an important learning opportunity.
I don't teach economics as dogma.
I want students to question it and I want them to question its
application. Putting it to the test is the only way to really understand
Finally, I encourage students to work
together but complete assignments on their own. There is a time and a place
for group learning as long as the final product is each student's. Again,
setting clear expectations about the appropriate use of group learning
opportunities is a great thing to include in the instructions I give to the
class each time.
There are many creative ways in which
instructions can shape the entire learning experience rather than simply being
a drag to read through a syllabus on day one or rather than foregoing the
opportunity to give instructions and jumping right into the class.
Posted by Kevin Frick at 8:46 AM - Categories: VARIABLES before Assessment