Category: Education

My MRU videos with Ian Bremmer, on globalization

Here’s the first video in the three-part series.

And a description of the curriculum:

Globalization, Robots, and You

Students have important decisions to make about their educations and careers – wouldn’t it be nice if they better understood the forces of globalization and automation first?

Imagine if they could deftly navigate data from the BLS occupational handbook, academic research, and more to gauge salary prospects, the risk of automation, and foreign competition when comparing their options.

Imagine no more: Tyler Cowen and MRU have partnered with Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group Foundation to build a five-day curriculum that covers globalization, automation, creative destruction, the elephant graph, and more! Then we apply those concepts to help students rethink personal choices of education and career. 100% free.

The curriculum is chock-full of interactive games, discussion prompts, research assignments, assessment questions, and includes three new videos.

And here are links to video #2 – Creative Destruction: Technology and Trade and video #3 – Are There Winners and Losers of Globalization?

Here is a link to the curriculum.

They solved for the equilibrium

Yet GWU is taking a surprising and radical step that has prompted deep faculty anxiety: It is choosing to shrink — a lot.

Over the next five years, the private university just west of the White House aims to slash the undergraduate population of its D.C. campuses 20 percent. That would mean 2,100 fewer students, less tuition revenue and tough choices on whether to reduce faculty and financial aid or find other ways to balance the budget.

Many colleges have scrambled in recent times to cope with falling enrollment amid demographic upheaval. GWU provides the rare case of a school announcing in advance, as a public strategy, that it wants to get smaller…

LeBlanc declined to rule out faculty layoffs or other significant steps to reduce expenditures. He said those issues will be hashed out in consultation with faculty, trustees and others in the development of a strategic plan.

Here is more from Nick Anderson at The Washington Post.  Keep in mind that universities cannot do much to control their labor costs in the short or even medium-run, and thus shifts in demand can have a spectacularly large impact on finances.

Developing object permanence around flinches

Many years ago, I did an exercise where I made a list of thoughts that I flinched away from. Then, I made spaced repetition cards with the thoughts.

The cards were statements like: “As of March 2009, I am currently uncomfortable with the idea that quitting my job might be the right move.” (Totally fake example to communicate the format.)

I think it was a really useful exercise, and it’s pretty easy to implement, and I basically recommend it to people.

I don’t think the part about spaced repetition software specifically was all that important–I think the idea was that I developed something like object permanence around these mental flinches of mine, and that was the way I accomplished that.

If you try this, I wouldn’t try to force yourself to consider the uncomfortable thought at the object level. I would try to internalize that you are in fact uncomfortable considering it at the object level, and maybe meditate on possible cognitive chilling effects of that situation.

Because, in my experience, human brains are pretty good at back-propagating these flinches, and that can cut off a lot of otherwise useful thought. (The linked article is very good, but includes a framing and approach that are, IMO, importantly different from what worked for me. YMMV.)

From Divia Eden, via Alexey Guzey.

The college football surveillance culture that is Alabama

Saban, the Alabama football coach, has long been peeved that the student section at Bryant-Denny Stadium empties early. So this season, the university is rewarding students who attend games — and stay until the fourth quarter — with an alluring prize: improved access to tickets to the SEC championship game and to the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game, which Alabama is trying to reach for the fifth consecutive season.

But to do this, Alabama is taking an extraordinary, Orwellian step: using location-tracking technology from students’ phones to see who skips out and who stays.

“It’s kind of like Big Brother,” said Allison Isidore, a graduate student in religious studies from Montclair, N.J…

Greg Byrne, Alabama’s athletic director, said privacy concerns rarely came up when the program was being discussed with other departments and student groups. Students who download the Tide Loyalty Points app will be tracked only inside the stadium, he said, and they can close the app — or delete it — once they leave the stadium. “If anybody has a phone, unless you’re in airplane mode or have it off, the cellular companies know where you are,” he said.

Here is the full NYT piece, via Anecdotal.

Tabarrok on Macro Musings

Here’s my podcast on Macro Musings with David Beckworth. One bit on China.

Tabarrok: The perspective which we’re getting today is that we’re in competition with China, but actually, when it comes to ideas, we’re in cooperation with China, because the more scientists and engineers that there are in China, then the better that is for us, actually. As you pointed out, if a Chinese researcher comes up with a cure for cancer, great! That’s fantastic! I mean, ideally I would come up with a cure for cancer, but the second best is my neighbor comes up with a cure for cancer, right?

Beckworth: Right.

Tabarrok: So, increasing the size of the Chinese market, with wealthier Chinese consumers, wealthier Indian consumers, that is going to increase the demand to do research and development, and that is going to have tremendous impacts not only in health, but in any field of endeavor which relies on these big, fixed costs. So, any time you have an idea-centered industry, which is a lot of industries today. All of high tech is idea centered. More R&D means more ideas. That comes from having bigger, richer markets.

Berkeley markets in everything

Multiple students on campus have offered to pay their classmates to drop out of classes they are waitlisted for, raising concerns about over-enrollment and advising.

Campus sophomore David Wang reposted a screenshot on the Overheard at UC Berkeley Facebook page showing a post by a Haas senior in their final semester before going abroad offering to pay $100 to the first five students to drop UGBA 102B, “Introduction to  Managerial Accounting.” The student in question needed the class to graduate, and claimed that the “advising office was no help, so I’m taking matters into my own hands.”

Here is the full story, via Paul Kedrosky.

The chess diet

Robert Sapolsky, who studies stress in primates at Stanford University, says a chess player can burn up to 6,000 calories a day while playing in a tournament, three times what an average person consumes in a day. Based on breathing rates (which triple during competition), blood pressure (which elevates) and muscle contractions before, during and after major tournaments, Sapolsky suggests that grandmasters’ stress responses to chess are on par with what elite athletes experience.

“Grandmasters sustain elevated blood pressure for hours in the range found in competitive marathon runners,” Sapolsky says.

It all combines to produce an average weight loss of 2 pounds a day, or about 10-12 pounds over the course of a 10-day tournament in which each grandmaster might play five or six times. The effect can be off-putting to the players themselves, even if it’s expected. Caruana, whose base weight is 135 pounds, drops to 120 to 125 pounds. “Sometimes I’ve weighed myself after tournaments and I’ve seen the scale drop below 120,” he says, “and that’s when I get mildly scared.”

And this:

He has even managed to optimize … sitting. That’s right. Carlsen claims that many chess players crane their necks too far forward, which can lead to a 30 percent loss of lung capacity, according to studies in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science. And, according to Keith Overland, former president of the American Chiropractic Association, leaning 30 degrees forward increases stress on the neck by nearly 60 pounds, which in turn requires the back and neck muscles to work harder, ultimately resulting in headaches, irregular breathing and reduced oxygen to the brain.

Here is the full ESPN article, via multiple MR readers.

China-U.S. trade war insurance fact of the day

An increasing number of US universities are looking to buy insurance policies against a drop in revenue from international students, fearing they are overexposed to China at a time of mounting trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.

A 10 per cent decline in new international student enrolments at US universities — which rely heavily on revenue from Chinese and Indian students — over the past two academic years has already cost the US economy $5.5bn, according to a report from Nafsa, previously known as the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers.

Two colleges at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — the Gies College of Business and the College of Engineering — bought insurance in 2018 worth $60m from USI Insurance Services in Champaign, Illinois. The policy pays off if both the colleges suffer an 18.5 per cent decline in revenue from Chinese students year over year due to a government action such as visa restrictions or a “health event”.

The correct inference, I think, is that some of these colleges already have spent that supposedly forthcoming tuition money.

Here is more from Priyanka Vora at the FT.

What kind of industrial policy does America need?

That idea is making a big comeback, but let’s make sure we understand the status quo first.  So runs my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Perhaps most important, it should be recognized that the U.S. already has an industrial policy — and has for some time. It is a collection of programs and policies at the federal and state level, many of which are highly imperfect, and so the focus should be on fixing what is already in place.

The first and perhaps most significant component of U.S. industrial policy is a high level of defense spending, much higher than that of any other country. The spinoffs of this spending famously include the internet of course, but also early advances in computers and some later advances in aviation. Today’s orbiting network of satellites is in part a spinoff from the space program, which was partially motivated by military concerns.

It’s not yet clear whether current defense spinoffs will prove as innovative and as potent as those  of the past, but there are some reasons to be skeptical. Procurement cycles for weapons can stretch to a dozen years or more, yet technologies are changing far more quickly.

So if I were designing an “industrial policy” for America, my first priority would be to improve and “unstick” its procurement cycles. There may well be bureaucratic reasons that this is difficult to do. But if it can’t be done, then perhaps the U.S. shouldn’t be setting its sights on a more ambitious industrial policy.

I also consider the NIH and the biomedical establishment, and America’s extensive system of state colleges and universities, as part of what is already a quite ambitious “industrial policy,” even if we don’t always call it that.

*The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us*

That is the new book by Paul Tough, I read it through in one sitting.  The back cover offers an appropriate introduction to the work:

Does college work?  Does it provide real opportunity for young people who want to improve themselves and their prospects?  Or is it simply a rigged game designed to protect the elites who have power and exclude everyone else?

That may sound a little overwrought, but this book actually delivers a quality product on those questions.  In addition to the well-selected anecdotes, Tough also engages seriously with the research of Raj Chetty, Caroline Hoxby, and others.  He is also willing to report politically incorrect truths (for instance the percentage of black attendees at top colleges who are from Africa or the Caribbean) without gloating about it or slanting the evidence, as is so commonly done.

Here is one short zinger to savor:

At the University of Virginia, only 13 percent of undergraduates are eligible for Pell grants — a lower rate than at Princeton University or Trinity College.  At the University of Michigan, the figure is 16 percent.  At the University of Alabama, the flagship public institution of one of the poorest states in the nation, the median family income for undergraduates is higher than at Bryn Mawr College.

Definitely recommended.

My Conversation with Samantha Power

Samantha Power has a new and excellent book out, The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir, which I very much enjoyed.  And so a Conversation with Tyler was in order, here is the audio and transcript, here is one bit:

COWEN: For a final closing segment, I just have some super simple questions about foreign policy again. Over the course of the last summer, Iran apparently seized two British tankers. There’ve been other incidents in the Strait of Hormuz in some way connected with Iran. From a game-theoretic point of view, why would they do this? Why does this make sense?

POWER: Well, the one thing that they would know that would give them some point of leverage is the extreme war fatigue within the United States, and really within the Western world. So, by upping the stakes, arguably — I mean, who knows why the hell they’re doing what they’re doing?

But by upping the stakes, they arguably could be sending a signal like, “You want to get in this game? It’s not as if we’re an island and you can just break the deal, penalize us gratuitously, penalize the people who are still trying to maintain the terms of the deal, and that there won’t be collateral consequences outside the nuclear space.”

Because the nuclear consequences, as they begin to enrich and violate the terms of the deal — having legitimately argued that we had violated the terms of the deal — the effects of those are not day-to-day effects in the news world. It’s a bit abstract for the public and even for policymakers. It’s an incremental abrogation.

But acts like this show that they have leverage, that they are active militarily in parts of the world where we have a vested interest in maintaining freedom of navigation. So I think they’re showing that they can hit in domains outside the nuclear domain. I think that is probably what they’re doing.

Here is another segment:

COWEN: In which ways do you feel your thought is in some manner still Irish in orientation in a way that would distinguish you from, say, American-born individuals?

POWER: It’s hard to know because I can’t run the counterfactual, so I don’t know what’s just because my mother is a physician and very empathetic toward her patients, and do I learn from that? Or am I moved by having come from a small country, at that time a poor country, that was sending —

COWEN: With a history of oppression, right?

POWER: With a history of oppression, with a history of the dignity of its people being trampled. Is that why I care so much about individual dignity? Again, I can’t run the history a different way.

And finally:

COWEN: Very simple — are baseball games too long? Why not make it 7 innings?

POWER: Why not make it 12?

COWEN: It’s boring, right?

POWER: For you and, as it turns out, for others.

COWEN: For me. So many games are over 3 hours. Shouldn’t the game be 2 hours, 17 minutes?

We also cover her first impressions of America, being a wartime correspondent, China and Iraq, Star Wars vs. Star Trek, van Morrison vs. Bob Dylan, robot empires vs. robot umpires, her favorite novel, how personal one should get in a memoir and why, and German defense spending, among other topics.

Definitely recommended.

ASA Against Student Evaluations

Yesterday in Active Learning Works But Students Don’t Like It I pointed out that student evaluations do not correlate well with teacher effectiveness and may discourage teachers from using more effective but less student-preferred methods of teaching. Coincidentally the American Sociological Association issued a statement yesterday discouraging student evaluations for tenure and promotion decisions.

SETs are weakly related to other measures of teaching effectiveness and student learning (Boring, Ottoboni, and Stark 2016; Uttl, White, and Gonzalez 2017); they are used in statistically problematic ways (e.g., categorical measuresare treated as interval, response rates are ignored, small differences are given undue weight, and distributionsare not reported) (Boysen 2015; Stark and Freishtat 2014); and they can be influenced by course characteristics like time of day, subject, class size, and whether the course is required, all of which are unrelated to teaching effectiveness. In addition, in both observational studies and experiments, SETs have been found to be biased against women and people of color (for recent reviews of the literature, see Basow and Martin 2012 and Spooren, Brockx, and Mortelmans 2015).

Student evaluations mostly evaluate entertainment value but, as my colleague Bryan Caplan notes, given how boring most classes are, entertainment value is worth something! Thus, the ASA notes that student evaluations can be useful as a form of feedback.

Questions on SETs should focus on student experiences, and the instruments should be framed as an opportunity for student feedback, rather than an opportunity for formal ratings of teaching effectiveness.

Student evaluations are on their way out in Canada, as a tool for tenure and promotion. I expect the same here, at least on paper. The ASA is big on “holistic” measures of teacher evaluation as a replacement which strikes me as weaselly. I’d prefer more objective measures such as value added scores.

Active Learning Works But Students Don’t Like It

A carefully done study that held students and teachers constant shows that students learn more in active learning classes but they dislike this style of class and think they learn less. It’s no big surprise–active learning is hard and makes the students feel stupid. It’s much easier to sit back and be entertained by a great lecturer who makes everything seem simple.

Despite active learning being recognized as a superior method of instruction in the classroom, a major recent survey found that most college STEM instructors still choose traditional teaching methods. This article addresses the long-standing question of why students and faculty remain resistant to active learning. Comparing passive lectures with active learning using a randomized experimental approach and identical course materials, we find that students in the active classroom learn more, but they feel like they learn less. We show that this negative correlation is caused in part by the increased cognitive effort required during active learning. Faculty who adopt active learning are encouraged to intervene and address this misperception, and we describe a successful example of such an intervention.

The authors say that it can help to tell students in advance that they should expect to feel flustered but it will all work out in the end.

The success of active learning will be greatly enhanced if students accept that it leads to deeper learning—and acknowledge that it may sometimes feel like exactly the opposite is true.

I am dubious that this will bring students around. An alternative that might help is to discount student evaluations so that teachers don’t feel that they must entertain in order to do well on evaluations. As Brennan and Magness point out in their excellent Cracks in the Ivory Tower:

Using student evaluations to hire, promote, tenure, or determine raises for faculty is roughly on a par with reading entrails or tea leaves to make such decisions. (Actually, reading tea leaves would be better; it’s equally bullshit but faster and cheaper.)… the most comprehensive research shows that whatever student evaluations (SETs) measure, it isn’t learning caused by the professor.

Indeed, the correlation between student evaluations and student learning is at best close to zero and at worst negative. Student evaluations measure how well liked the teacher is. Students like to be entertained. Thus, to the extent that they rely on student evaluations, universities are incentivizing teachers to teach in ways that the students like rather than in ways that promote learning.

It’s remarkable that student evaluations haven’t already been lawsuited into oblivion given that student evaluations are both useless and biased.

The new generational divide

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

In a nutshell, younger people today are very comfortable with a small screen and older people are not. Both younger and older people can be found staring at their phones for texts or email or directions, but the big difference comes in cultural consumption. According to one study, the median age of an American television viewer is about 56, whereas for mobile and computer video viewers the median age is 40. Forty percent of those viewers are between 13 and 34…

Just as many older people don’t grasp the import of YouTube, most younger people have a weak sense of the power of cinema on a large screen. It’s not entirely their fault. It’s relatively easy to see older movies on a big screen in London or Paris, and maybe in New York City and Los Angeles (and Silver Spring, Maryland, home to the American Film Institute). In most other places in America, it’s much more difficult.

Sadly, the world is rapidly becoming a place where cinematic history, as it was created for larger screens, no longer exists. Netflix, for all its wonders and diverse contemporary selection, is notoriously bad about making older movies available for streaming, and at any rate the service does not provide a properly large screen for those films.

There is much more at the link, and the economically-minded reader will note this is an application of the Alchian-Allen Theorem.

Ideological bias and argument from authority among economists

That is the topic of a new paper by Mohsen Javdani and Ha-Joon Chang, here is part of the abstract:

Using an online randomized controlled experiment involving economists in 19 countries, we examine the effect of ideological bias on views among economists. Participants were asked to evaluate statements from prominent economists on different topics, while source attribution for each statement was randomized without participants’ knowledge. For each statement, participants either received a mainstream source, an ideologically different less-/non-mainstream source, or no source. We find that changing source attributions from mainstream to less-/non-mainstream, or removing them, significantly reduces economists’ reported agreement with statements. This contradicts the image economists have of themselves…

And from the paper:

Consistent with our overall findings, we find that for all but three statements, changing source attributions to a less/non-mainstream source significantly reduces the agreement level. The estimated reductions range from around one-tenth of a standard deviation to around half of a standard deviation.

The largest agreement reduction is for this sentence:

“Economic discourse of any sort — verbal, mathematical, econometric — is rhetoric; that is, an effort to persuade.”

You also can test which kinds of authority reassignation alter the level of agreement.  And thus:

We find that the estimated ideological bias among female economists is around 40 percent less than their male counterparts.

The countries where economists exhibit the highest ideological bias are Ireland, Japan, Australia, and Scandinavia, where for Austria, Brazil, and Italy the ideological bias is smallest.  South Africa, France, and Italy are most conformist to mainstream opinion.

It is a wordy and poorly written paper, and they don’t consider the possibility that deference to authority perhaps is the rational Bayesian move, not the contrary.  Still, it has numerous results of interest.  Here is the authors’ blog post on the paper.