Model this

Students in George Parrott’s psychology courses have an unusual requirement: they must bring homemade snacks each week to the laboratory section, and they need to work out a schedule such that groups of students make sure each session is covered, and that snacks aren’t repeated from week to week. If there are no snacks, Parrott walks out of his class at California State University at Sacramento, and the students lose that week’s instruction.

Parrott has been teaching at the university since 1969. He says he started this requirement a few years after he arrived — and that most students have appreciated the ideas behind the rule (which he says are more educational than culinary). But on Thursday, when students in the morning section of Foundations of Behavioral Research didn’t bring muffins (or anything), he enforced his rule. He left class and took his teaching assistant to breakfast. One of the other sections missed its snack obligation one day last month, and he left that class, too. Ever since, the snack schedule has been followed by the students in that class.

I snickered at this sentence:

This is Parrott’s last semester before retirement, but his teaching technique — in use for more than 30 years — is now being subjected to scrutiny.

Here is more.


Lessons in self-organization. I think the idea is strikingly clever. There are probably loads of psychological and memory-retention benefits to this exercise, by forcing students to deliberately think about the course outside of the class, or suffer the punishment of the whole group. If you have strong incentives to remember the muffins, you are more likely to remember the other tasks for the class as well. I bet the structure this imposes also leads to greater cooperation among classmates, and not just in relation to logistics.

The lesson is that when someone over whom you have no control fails to perform some assigned task you get punished yet the person at the top gets paid in full. Works in Corporate America every day.

I snickered at this line:
"... when he was an undergraduate, courses had 12 to 20 students, and those in a class formed close ties among themselves and with the professor. "Those days are long gone," Parrott said."

When I was an undergraduate blacks couldn't enroll.

A prof trying this today can expect to be reprimanded or even yanked from the classroom.

Seems like an interesting pedagogy technique to me. Sad to say I am not surprised by the reader comments at the end of the story.

It's USAToday, they're not even people

Seems like even when prof use completely arbitrary and crazy methods, no one give a damn. Even worse, people think is a great idea, just because he's doing it

Are you sure it is arbitrary? He is making his students engage in organizational behavior.

Isn't this already done in third grade? Do they have milk with their treats and can they take a nap afterward? After all, three hours is a long time for these young minds to sit still.

This sounds like off the books compensation to me.

Sounds like a gimmick. Is there evidence that knowing the names of everyone in class improves academic outcomes?

Yes, at least generally. The difference between high-achieving students and mediocre students is whether they treat learning as social or private. The more students work together, the more highly they achieve.

Can you source this? Would be interested in learning more about the topic.

Doesn't seem so; although it depends on how you define "achievement".

Many of the top-of-the-class students in my science classes were essentially loners.

If achievement is to mean academic achievement then I would say anecdotal evidence strongly rejects that claim.

So if a students wants to ditch the class and study for a test or hang out with friends, all he has to do is to "fail" to bring the snacks.

It is not that novel. Isn't that how politics works? Isn't that how the New York Police Department works? Aren't secretaries supposed to bring coffee for their bosses?

The kids are being prepared for real life: squeeze runs the world, get used to it, kid.

I would be curious to know if the quality of the snacks had any impact.

I presume the snacks were for the entire class. If so, little of the consumer surplus went to the teacher, and it was almost zero-sum game for the students in that most of the snacks purchased were offset by snacks consumed over the course of a semester So, was everyone better off by being forced to bring snacks? The professor solved a free rider problem.

How is that any different from the insurance mandate in ObamaCare? Or mandatory unionization? Perhaps the professor is a closet libertarian making fun of the leftists in the university administration.

Trembling hand perfect equilibrium, but the students assumed a third player (administration) and a repeated game (over semesters, not weeks in a class), while the professor assumes a two-player game repeated over weeks. The students have the better model (did they know the professor was retiring?), but I think this a clever exercise in collective action. In the student-vs-student subgame, shouldn't the above-average student "forget" to bring a snack at a crucial time?

The students have paid for their education and will be in debt for years to come, so their not receiving that education because of a passive aggressive professor is not right.

Seems like the assignment to bring snacks is part of their education.

Perish the thought that students have to learn anything other than what's written in a textbook.

Also perish the thought that basic study skills be taught during long years of K12 schooling. We need a highly paid university professor to hand hold 20 year olds.

You work with what you got, not what with you wish you had

I don't remember any psychology lectures that were worth sitting through, which is why I stopped sitting through them.

But maybe you would have attended had there been free pizza?

Best trick to ensure good turnout at soporific grad school seminars is free food. Perhaps Prof. Parrot is replicating the strategy to his (boring?) psych classes?

Ah, tenure - something of incalculable price, at least when you have it.

Just ask an economics professor whether they would give it up.

Actually, I believe that several prominent profs (such as Levitt) have openly offered to give up tenure in exchange for compensation of some kind.

Yes, people who publish a lot are clearly better off in a non-tenure system. It protects the lazy.

And they won't accept it again in the future from another institution? That would be the pledge I would be willing to see, not the one offering to sell it, without in any sense losing the ability to acquire tenure again.

Apparently this wouldn't work for Professor Mankiw.

I'd be afraid to order my class to do this. Just takes one misfit to flavor his muffins with some tactically dosed laxative.

I don't see anything wrong with it. There are some obvious, albeit small, benefits in organizational learning. However, it is one of those rules that could not possibly be enforced if it was ever stretched. One missed class to prove a point is one thing, more than that and the students have a right to be angry.

Two reactions:

1) Difficult cases make bad law.

2) This is a case where reasonable people can disagree (witness the comments above). In such a situation it seems to me that the instructor's judgment is entitled to some deference. Obviously there are limits, but the bar for trying to dictate how other people run their classes should surely be higher than policies about snacks.

Can the professor point to some tangible benefit from his unorthodox approach? Or is this just "I've got tenure and I can do what I like"?

"Can the professor point to some tangible benefit from his []orthodox approach?"
Seems like a more valid question in light of the economist's recent article saying that college lectures are basically the worst way to teach anybody anything.

Can you give the name of the article or a link. I would appreciate. I tried some searching, but didn't find anything to fit that descrpition.

I think this it was you are looking for

Here is a tip on searching when you know the source

type into google: teaching methods

Thanks Arte
Knowing the words to search is a hard problem for me. Maybe there is no way to teach what to search for. You either got or you don't. I asked a similar question from my professor about how to find whether there is empirical evidence related to whatever hypothesis i might be having. The answer was just to type something related to the subject, and just browse through all the hundreds of pages of search resultst that are returned.

I used to illustrate a point in a lecture by mixing, and sipping from, a gin and tonic. I would assure the students that I never drank before lunch except in lectures.

I imagine the class will have the concept of operant conditioning down pat!

This faculty member abandoned the duties he is contracted for by the university, and his pay should be docked accordingly. I'm sure there's a clause somewhere in the contract spelling out his terms of employment about this, just as there was in mine when I was teaching.

I.e., pedagogy is NOT the issue here, breach of contract is.

I thought game theory when I read the top.

Isn't there a solution (in a non-repeated game) where noone brings food to any class, the teacher is fired after not teaching a single class and everyone gets credit for the subject at the universities behest?

Or does students (competitive) interest in relative status (marks) destroy that?

My Russian teacher used to refuse to teach if no one brought any beer. Eventually we just moved classes to the pub.

that wasn't Hector, was it?

Well I guess that shows that not all class fail to deliver useful skills and knowledge.

It is hard for me to believe that the way the world is in today’s society where when a parent punishes their child the get scrutinized but a teacher that has been paid for by these students and their parents can chose to neglect his job if no one brings him a snack. In society when one is given a job they are expected to do it. If you got to a mechanic to get your car fixed you expect to pay him and have him fix your car. You do not expect to go check on your car and him tell you that even though you have already paid that in order for him to work every day you have to bring him a soda because he is thirsty. That is absolutely preposterous. And all those that said he is preparing these students for a life of subservience to their bosses are so misconstrued it not even funny. If you want to put it an example like that it would be the employer that would have to get his employees whatever they desire before they can start their days work. The idea of them going to get their bosses things is a money flow from an employer to an employee, and that is how a capitalist economy works. You work and get paid. You work harder you get paid more. Not you get paid and if some other abstract thought comes to mind that requirement must be met before one does their job. This post and most of its comments seriously bewildered me.

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