James Murray - Scholarly Teaching Portfolio

Centennial Hall, University of Wisconsin - La Crosse

Lesson Studies

Developing students' ability to connect economic modeling to real world issues

Nabamita Dutta and James Murray
Supported by a Lesson Study Project 2013-2014 Grant by the UWL Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning

January 28, 2015

Abstract: In introductory economics classes, we emphasize graphical modeling, which for many students is a new way of framing problems, thinking about them, and solving them. We have learned in past years by assessing these courses that students struggle with modeling. We have made some improvement in this area, but we recently learned that even when students correctly set up and solve a graphical modeling problem, they fail to connect the result to the real world economic problem. For example, students are often able to correctly model and solve a problem involving taxes, but when in a separate question they are asked to describe the implications of the same tax policy, their answers are inconsistent with the results they had just found. Often answers showed little relationship to the previous analysis.

We created a lesson that challenges students to integrate graphical modeling and economic reasoning in the context of an authentic scenario. Students present their case in a manner appropriate to a non-expert audience while still using economic reasoning based on graphical modeling. In our lesson, the instructor demonstrates this thought process with a few examples. Then we give in-class group exercises that ask the students to do the same. In this report, we present our lesson, some findings on our students' thought processes, and identify some common challenges in student learning and hurdles we still face as instructors.

Efficient and Effective Feedback: A Lesson Study Investigating Students’ Responses and Follow-up to Feedback on Their Writing

Taggert Brooks, Elizabeth Knowles, Bryan Kopp, James Murray, and Laurie Strangman
Supported by a Lesson Study Project 2012-2013 Grant by the UWL Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning

August 1, 2013

Abstract: We developed and implemented a systematic and efficient approach to give feedback on student writing in a business research methods course. In this lesson study, we investigate how students respond to this feedback. The lesson takes place at mid-semester, after students have spent some time developing their research question and reviewing the literature. At the time of our classroom observation, the students receive the first feedback of their first draft of the introduction section of their final paper. We observed their conversations upon receiving the feedback and noted how it influenced their revision plans. We conducted our lesson study over two semesters, Fall 2012 and Spring 2013.

To make the process of giving feedback efficient, we developed a database of comments on student writing which were specific to the objectives of the assignment. There are seven goals of the introduction assignment, some of which are specific to an introduction section of a research project, such as “State the purpose of your research project”, and some of which are very general, such as “Communicate in a clear and meaningful way.” Using these goals as the traits for a rubric, we developed a set of feedback comments that align to each goal suggesting improvements or noting when the objective was met. While the comments are specific enough to address specific goals of the assignment and common writing problems, they were general enough so that they could be used for any student’s writing for the given assignment. We use text-expanding software (Breevy for Windows, Text-Expander for Mac) that allows the instructor to quickly populate a letter to each student with a set of comments appropriate for their submission.

Our classroom investigation revealed some challenges in giving feedback that effectively guides students on how to revise their work. One significant example concerns how students communicate purpose. While students may have attempted to communicate a specific purpose in one part of their introduction, often the introduction as a whole lacked focus. Even after receiving feedback, students were largely unable to recognize this problem or understand what kind of revision was appropriate.

Developing Students' Thought Processes For Choosing Appropriate Statistical Methods

Elizabeth Knowles and James Murray
Supported by a Lesson Study Project 2011-2012 Grant by the UWL Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning

August 23, 2012

Summary: Introductory statistics classes typically emphasize computation and implementation procedures for a number of statistical tests. While it is essential to build these skills before achieving higher-order critical thinking skills, students often struggle in subsequent research methods courses when expected to select appropriate statistical tests to answer research questions. This requires an understanding of how statistical methods are related to one another; and to achieve this, students must develop a more advanced organization of knowledge. We designed a lesson to help students build a knowledge organization to achieve this outcome, and observed students to better understand their thought processes. We share our thought process map for selecting a statistical test, report on the impact it had for our students, and offer suggestions for improving the lesson. In addition, we describe the thought processes students used, both before and after being exposed to the thought process map, and identify sources of confusion revealed through the lesson study process. These include: when to apply an independent-samples test versus a paired-samples test, how the identification of scale of measurement led students to choose the wrong statistical method, the difficulty students had recognizing or defining what the variables in a problem were, and the lack of understanding of the difference between statistical language and colloquial language.

Assessment

Foreign Currency Exchange Markets in Introductory Macroeconomics

September 2009 - May 2011

Summary: I administered similar assessment tasks in my introductory macroeconomics classes over four semesters from Fall 2009 to Spring 2011. The assessment task targeted a task and topic many introductory students find challenging: applying the supply and demand models for foreign currency exchange to make predictions for relative currency appreciation or depreciation. I document below my teaching strategies prior to assessment, my reflection and conclusions from previous assessments, student performance on the task, and updated teaching strategies to improve student learning. By the end of the two year assessment process, I had developed teaching strategies that involved interleaving exchange rate models throughout the semester and practice problem strategies that improved my students understanding of graphical modeling more generally.

Online Innovations

Econocast.net: Pencast Lessons for the Undergraduate Economics Curriculum

John Nunley and James Murray
Supported by a 2013 Kazanjian Economic Foundation Grant

Summary: The Pencasts on this website over most of the content that is commonly taught in six college-level economics courses that typically form the core of the curriculum for a major in economics. A 'Pencast' is a video of someone writing on a notebook page, while describing what they are writing. It is made with a special ballpoint pen, called a SmartPen and made by LiveScribe, that has a small video camera looking at the tip and a microphone to record audio. Each course on this site has between 8-15 major units which coincide roughly with a chapter of a textbook. Each unit has several Pencasts, most between 3-5 minutes, covering most of the content that would typically appear in such a chapter in an economics textbook. The collection of Pencasts in each course should be able to complement most of the core content in a face-to-face class or online class, or facilitate an independent study in the given course.