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Here is some good advice for economics students, related to the subject of this post I think:



Two more things that students might think I'd be annoyed by, but I'm not.

* Point out mistakes in my lecture notes

* More subtly, point out problems in the background of my data analysis examples.

This was more an issue teaching introductory biostatistics to a wide range of health sciences graduate students. My examples were real data (tidied up and simplified in many cases) and were supposed to be real questions (again, tidied up and simplified), and I want to know if the background to the questions is obsolete or just plain wrong.

Jack P, Thomas, thanks, those are great suggestions.

How about pointing out mistakes in lectures? This may be less of an issue in Economics, but as an undergraduate student in mathematics I regularly caught professors making arithmetic or algebraic mistakes -- I started yelling corrections from the back of the room after one absent-minded professor got lost for 15 minutes and ended a lecture with "well umm this worked when I did it yesterday", but I've heard many students say they would be terrified to suggest that a professor did something wrong.

Colin, I've added that to the quiz. There were 9 responses to the quiz when I added that option, so the answers to that option will have to be scaled up.

The time when I appreciate this the most is when I make a a calculation mistake right at the beginning of working out a long problem, and some one points it out immediately. For that, I am truly thankful.

I wouldn't say pointing out mistakes is never annoying - it can be done in a disrespectful way, sometimes the mistake isn't important and the interruption is distracting and time consuming, and sometimes the prof hasn't actually made a mistake, it's the student who's confused. But when I'm standing on the blackboard trying to figure out why I'm not getting the answer I should get, I really appreciate the student who points odd mistakes in lecture.

Frances: in the last exam in a very basic introductory course this winter, I asked multiple choices questions . One of them required to compute various elasticities but the students had to notice the variation in income as well as prices in the data set. The distractors were various combinations of mistakes in using wrong data within the set. You can go a long way with multiple choices if the exam is well structured.

How about the student who says "That's not the way people really are" in the middle of a lecture on, say, consumer theory? (I did this once as an undergraduate...as I recall, it got me a stern look, a five-minute spiel on Friedman's "Methodology of Positive Economics" and the admonition I'd need to be more open-minded if I was going to suceed as an economics student.)

Frances: Indeed, I was referring to errors which are obvious as soon as you notice them (you copied that equation wrong when you switched to a new blackboard, you said that 2 + 4 = 8, etc.) during calculations. Certainly it would be annoying if the student wasn't first absolutely certain that it was a mistake, or if it's something irrelevant rather than something which will cause problems later in the calculation.

On your point 3 (emails late at night / on weekends), I'd add the caveat "as long as it's not the night before an exam", since that sort of timing places an unreasonable pressure on the instructor to respond quickly. I had profs announce that they wouldn't be checking their email for 24 hours prior to the final exam in order to prevent this.

You and I are the same person (surprise!). The only exception for me is that I am OK with spelling and grammar errors in handwritten exams but not in essays. And students who misspell my name in an e-mail asking for assistance are very annoying.

I actually don't mind when students ask whether something is on the exam, or how to prepare for the exam or anything like that. In some of my classes I cover a huge amount of material and it seems reasonable to know whether it is something they will be tested on or not.

I had a really awkward experience in math class, where I let a professor error accumulate, before saying something cause we weren't getting along so well and I was trying not to be a dick. Hoping someone else would catch it. Anyway, it sucked. Later another student pointed out a mistake right away, and the prof mentioned how he appreciated it.

Giovanni "How about the student who says "That's not the way people really are" in the middle of a lecture on, say, consumer theory?"

Sometimes a good test is "how are other students likely to feel about this intervention?" Since the majority of students just want the prof to get through the material and get on with it, questions that probe the deep philosophical underpinnings of econ are better left for office hours. If someone said that in one of my classes I hope I'd say something like "yes and no. There's a large literature on behavioural econ that addresses these issues - if you stay after class I'll give you some references."

Alice, yes, there is a big difference between spelling on exams and spelling on essays. We both know someone who couldn't spell to save her life, and I think that probably makes us more forgiving and understanding than some other people would be.

On the survey a number of people have made other comments/suggested other things that aren't annoying

Send me information (e.g. news stories or references) on issues that they know interest me (suggested by two people)

Do other stuff in class, as long as it's not disruptive.

Manipulative crying is annoying, but crying while explaining poor performance due to personal problems is not

Ask pertinent questions in class (not trying to work less or get a better grade) (suggested by two people)

Caveat on late night emails: They are annoying when students expect immediate replies.

Ask what parts of the prerequisite courses they should brush up on (note: this has never actually happened, but it'd be nice if it did once)

"If someone said that in one of my classes I hope I'd say something like 'yes and no. There's a large literature on behavioural econ that addresses these issues - if you stay after class I'll give you some references'."

I think this would be very reasonable response. (But also an unusual one - I suspect even today most instructors would react in much the same way my old prof did.) But what if the student pressed the issue? "Yes and no? Now I'm confused. Are you saying this is basically the right way to think about how people behave, with maybe some small adjustments you'll talk about later. Or that it isn't really true, but for some reason you're teaching it to to us anyways, as if it is true?"

(As you can probably tell, I'd have a good deal of sympathy for any student who raised questions of this sort. During my time teaching I was constantly amazed - and bothered - by the degree of mental acquiescence displayed by students. I used to tell my wife: "If I said 'I am a horse' in class, they'd all dutifully scribble down 'prof is a horse'...and the keeners would bring me a sack of oats at the end of the course.")


Yup. Reminds me of this old Doonesbury cartoon.

Giovanni - context is everything. Big class v. small class? Are the other students interested in the answer, or could they not care less? Is the question picking up on something that a lot of students are wondering, or lost and confused about? Is it half way through a three hour class, when everybody's feeling a bit bored and needs a break?

I once had a brilliant student who would ask great questions. I would have loved to have spent the entire three hour class talking to him about whether or not voluntary provision of public goods could provide the efficient level of outdoor hockey rinks. But it went right over all of the other students' heads, so I had to cut the questions off.

Giovanni - a laugh out loud of recognition and amusement.

A simple I dont know never annoys me. Making up stuff annoys me. Not getting something right or understanding something the first time does not annoy me. Arguing with me about why they are getting it wrong annoys me. (I teach med students and residents.)


Reading Giovanni's comment I thought about this simple story

"Student says "That's not the way people really are"? And now prof goes into five-minute spiel on Friedman's "Methodology of Positive Economics" and the admonition I'd need to be more open-minded only to be interrupted by another student - "Mr. Professor, will Methodology of Positive Economics also be part of the test?"

So yeah, question about something being on the test may be sign of an annoying student. But the question may also be a sign of a "bad teaching" because instead of explaining to students things that will later be required from them you were engaged in lively dialogue actually teaching students something that is unfortunately not necessarily directly connected to what "will be part of the test". So yes, the question was maybe annoying but it is more in line of how university education actually works than what some teachers like to think about themselves and the system they are part of.

J.V. "the question may also be a sign of a "bad teaching" "

Spot on.

Nothing a student does that is a genuine attempt to understand will bother me. Almost anything that is an attempt to score points (metaphorically or on a test) will annoy me.

The catch is there can be cultural/educational history issues confusing the two calsses. I gave a grad class a substantial numerical calculation. One student kept asking me about it and I started getting impatient. I think he sensed my annoyance because he pointed out this was the first time he had been given such an assignment.

What is annoying is the struggling student who doesn't ask for help or students who don't help each other

It doesn't annoy me if students come in with a draft of a paper to get my thoughts. That shows effort. It doesn't annoy me if someone asks how they can do better in the class and follows up the request with action and effort. It does annoy me if they say, "I really need to pass this class! What can I do?" one or two weeks before the final. I usually think to myself, "well, asking for help about three months ago would have been a good idea." By the way, I teach history.

Tyler "It does annoy me if they say, "I really need to pass this class! What can I do?" one or two weeks before the final."

Though this is somewhat less annoying than saying "I really need to pass this class! What can I do" after the final!

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