Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Lessons Learned

The Economics of Organizations turned out to be a very rewarding course. I had no idea what to expect going into this class, just an interest in how organizations function. There was a lot of new information that I had never really seen in the other economic courses that I have taken. Our exploration of bargaining was of particular interest to me. We looked at how it can be advantageous for the buyer or seller to be truthful in some scenarios and lie in other scenarios. I had never really considered the logic behind truthfulness, or expect there to be a way to model it. I also liked looking at conflicts within organizations. It was interesting to review Schon and Argyris's thoughts on management styles. Some managers could act in a way that does nothing to advance their goals or help the organization, but just create chaos and a terrible work environment. In the future, it would seem likely that a real-world situation would come up similar to what Schon and Argyris describe and the knowledge that I gained from their research could help me solve that potential situation.

I am a fan of how this class was structured. I like that attendance is not a mandatory requirement for success in the class. I've had a few professors claim the same thing, but throw information on a test that you could only have learned if you attended class. However in this course, the readings and homework provided you with the tools necessary to succeed on the tests [knock on wood]. At first I was unsure about the online blogs. I had never really blogged before, but I have begun to enjoy writing out some of my thoughts. It also has helped me gain a practical understanding of some of the concepts we've reviewed in this course.

My process for blogging stayed about the same the entire semester. I would look at the topic a few days in advance of actually writing the blogpost. This would help me come up with better examples or ideas of what to write about in the blogpost. This didn't always come true, but I think overall it helped the quality of my posts. I would spend an hour at the most actually writing the blogpost, but I would spend more time than that thinking out the topic.

I never really prepared for any of the excel homework. Even if there was a reading that helped explain what the homework was trying to accomplish, I would usually do the homework first and then read the relevant information before the tests. The excel homework was usually straightforward and simple. I only struggled with the first few assignments because of some technical issues with excel and not necessarily issues with understanding the homework. The assignments took me anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours.

I would have liked to see more excel assignments in the course. The excel homework was the biggest advantage I had for studying for exams. I was able to complete the assignments a few times and become very familiar with the necessary calculations. I also would have liked a better system for assigning readings. I would have to go through the class calendar to figure out which chapters to read and was worried about missing some important readings. I understand that going to class would eliminate this concern, but a more clear explanation of the assigned readings might even benefit regular class attendees.


  1. What you wrote about my attendance policy pained me. You clearly didn't understand what is about - which is to think of it from the perspective of Akerlof's Gift Exchange Model. I did want you to come to class and while topics on the exam do follow the homework, the class should really improve your depth of understanding.

    The reason attendance is not require is that I want to treat students like adults and not monitor everything. With the homework submissions and the blogging, I monitor enough already. So I wanted coming to class to be a gift that students provide. When we reviewed Akerlof's model in class, I said as much. But perhaps you missed that session.

    Your last paragraph - on wanting more Excel homework - is good. There are other students who expressed wanting more blogging. In some sense it would be best to let students do what they prefer - more Excel for you, more blogging for those other students. I wonder how to do that. Absent the ability to divide the work that way, it seems the current balance is pretty reasonable, since there are students on both sides of the issue.

    1. I understand your frustration with my interpretation of your attendance policy. However, I have found that an individualistic style of learning has worked best for me. I tend to gain a better understanding of material from readings that explain the material, rather than a lecture where the material is orally explained. I like that I can review information at my own pace with assigned readings. This approach lets me skim information that I'm already familiar with and focus on new information. I suppose that my basis for deciding what learning strategies work best for me ends up being my grade in the course. Perhaps that wouldn't hold true if I changed how I view my performance in courses.

      I hope I have the correct understanding of Akerlof's Gift Exchance Model as it relates to the attendance policy. As you mentioned, the blogposts and excel homework are your way of monitoring the class, so a mandatory attendance policy would be overkill. Your gift to the class is the relaxed attendance policy, which relieves some stress for students who accidentally have to miss a class or two. In return for your gift, you said you wanted students to attend class even though it is not mandatory. I understand that I have done a poor job of reciprocating this gift, however, I suspect that you also want students to perform well in your course and have a good grasp on the material. I mentioned above that I believe reading is a better learning strategy for myself than attending lectures. Thus far in the course I believe I have performed adequately. If I attending lecture more often would I have performed at a higher level? I'm not sure. I suspect that you would make the case that my performance would have improved. I would make the case that studying when I should have been in class (whether for this course or another course) made more effective usage of my time. Either way, I'm sorry I caused you any pain with my review of your attendance policy, that was not my intention.

  2. I tried not to lecture too much but instead play Socrates. When I did lecture it typically didn't go over well, those some spot lectures may have been useful.

    That said, might there have been stuff in class discussed that wasn't in the readings (at least not in an overt way)? If there is and its not on the test, then by your metric that stuff isn't important. But for real understanding it is. That's the issue.

    Last Thursday I compared Akerlof's gift exchange model to the Shapiro and Stiglitz efficiency wage model. Observationally, they produce quite similar results. But under the hood, the explanations for the behavior are quite different. Will you understand that? I doubt it.

    The behavior you describe makes sense to me in a large lecture course. It doesn't in a small class like ours.

    Economists like to say sunk costs don't matter. Or, in plain English, there's no use crying over spilt milk. The course concludes soon. So we'll both move on. Maybe this last thread will give you something to consider afterward.

    1. You're absolutely right. I was treating this small course with in-class discussion as a large course with in-class lecturing. Throughout college my main focus has been on "making the grade". In many ways my study habits are aimed at performing well on exams, but not necessarily achieve a helpful understanding on the material. Almost every course I've taken here at the university has been a large, lecture-based course. This economics course had the smallest enrollment of any upper-level course I've taken. I should have recognized the need to adapt my habits for this course. Nonetheless, I stuck with my old ways and metric. I will definitely hold this discussion in my thoughts as I finish off my academic career so I can make the most of my remaining courses.