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It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint


Distance running is hard. There are lots of t-shirts highlighting this fact. “No time outs. No half-times. No substitutions. It must be the only true sport.” “My sport is what your sport does for punishment.” “Real athletes run, all others just play games.”

Have you ever run a 5-K? I’ve completed only one, July 2008. My husband was a cross-country runner in high school. Our son followed in his footsteps. I’ve witnessed many races. My admiration for runners grew to the point where I had to test myself. I trained. I ignored my bad hip. I got stronger and increased distance. My times dropped little by little.

I was excited and nervous on race day. Despite the warnings, I made a classic rookie mistake. I went out WAY too hard. A personal best! For the first mile. The second mile was much harder. I noticed the heat rising off the pavement. I started to feel like an imposter. The “real” racers were far ahead or at the finish. Doubts about my strength and stamina burdened each stride. I reached mile marker two cursing to myself, where is that damned finish line?

The last mile was a test of will. I regretted my first mile pace. My legs suffered and my split time was terrible. I was forced to walk more than once. Walking during a race is embarrassing. I was frustrated, but my body needed the slower pace in order to endure. My husband ran beside me the whole way. He encouraged me. Along the route spectators applaud as you pass. It’s seems natural for the race leaders to be cheered, but it’s the runners who have no shot at winning who benefit most from the encouragement. After my kids finished, they walked back to meet me. We ran the final stretch as a family.

Running a race embodies so many parallels to learning. Students start the term with big plans and high expectations. They go out hard. Then we reach the 2-mile mark. They regret poor choices, doubt their ability, and consider quitting. I see fatigue in my students’ faces. Attendance is down. Illness is up. The semester feels very long and the finish seems far away. What can I do to help my students finish the term strong?

Encourage. It sounds corny, but enthusiasm and encouragement help. Remind students how much they’ve already accomplished. Build anticipation about what’s yet to come. Refer to course goals. Highlight accomplishments. Make it relevant and valuable and worth pursuing to the end of the course.

Slow the pace. Consider cutting out some content. Reduce the number of assignments or extend a few deadlines. What’s nice to know v. necessary? Prioritize remaining content to focus on deep learning instead of wide but thin “coverage.”

Run with them. This is the time to increase office hours. Add review sessions. Seek student input about ways to help them push through to the end of the term. Explicitly recommit to partnering with them in learning.

I’ll close with my two favorite quotes from Pre (legendary runner Steve Prefontaine) as a reminder that learning is hard and college is more like a marathon than a sprint.

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.

 Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.


2015 ISETL Conference Storify


Check out the summary of tweets and photos from last week’s ISETL conference in beautiful Savannah.

Learned a lot.  Interacted with interesting folks across disciplines.  Looking forward to next year in Salt Lake City!

Big Questions


Want to get students thinking? Or perhaps more accurately, want to find out what they are already thinking about? Ask them to ASK questions! Here’s the assignment:

Typical homework assignments ask students to ANSWER questions. 

This assignment is different. 

I’d like you to ASK questions. 

What are you curious about?  What problems or issues are important to you?  What topics matter to you?  What questions do you wish you could answer?

Think carefully about this assignment.  While there are no wrong questions, some questions are better than others. Generally, yes-no and other closed-answer questions aren’t going to be as interesting to consider as issues and questions with many possibilities.

The questions you raise will help to shape the direction of our work this term.  So please, take a little time to think about questions…  Even if you think the issue has nothing to do with economics, it probably does.  So if you are puzzled by something, please include it.

I look forward to exploring meaningful questions with you!

I am blown away. Because they are young it’s easy to assume our students aren’t thinking deep thoughts or care about big problems or issues. But this small sample suggests they are curious and puzzled by many interesting topics.

  • Would widespread legalization of marijuana impact the number of tobacco users?
  • How can the country maintain agricultural productivity with these droughts in California, which grows a large portion of the country’s crops?
  • Why do people make silly decisions with scarce money or supplies if they know of the consequences?
  • How can we help feed, give water to, provide healthcare for, and teach struggling countries without digging ourselves (The U.S.) into a hole?
  • Why does my cell phone company keep raising the price of our bill each month?
  • Why does the price of Nike sneakers (and other brands) seem to keep rising but the quality of the shoe is the same (or not as good)?
  • What are some of the top ideas on how to fix the infrastructure issues in the United States?
  • Why does the United States not utilize its’ own oil?
  • I always wonder about people saying, we are going to run out of that resource or this. My question is; “Does technology become advanced to be able to produce and sustain all resources?’ That would erase the term “natural resources”. “Would that be our downfall in the long-run?” Sorry, Geoscience last year made me think about a lot of the sustainability questions facing us today.
  • Lastly, “Why do ‘Coke’ and ‘Pepsi’ both still exist?” You would think that one would eventually bankrupt the other but nope. Two companies made a drink that tastes almost identical and are both able to sell on a massive scale. This topic truly boggles my mind.
  • Does everyone have a disability from someone else’s perspective?
  • What would happen if everyone stopped following laws? Would we end up destroying ourselves as a species altogether?
  • What is your favorite thing about economics?
  • Another topic I enjoy is the technology industry and more specifically bitcoin. I’d like to see how the usage of a digital currency would affect a world of physical currency. I know recently it has been a bit unstable and kind of forgotten about but I think it would have been neat to see it take off more than what it did. I’d like to see what would have happened if the adoption of crypto currency had happened.
  • Are American automobile manufacturers truly American?
  • How were the banks able to approve loans to people that could not afford it for so long before the housing market crashed?

The honors section’s questions are broader and often provocative:

  • Would the legalization of all varieties of drugs be economically viable, seeing as such legalization would open up the ability for such drugs to be taxed? If such a system were to be implemented, what are the implications it would have on society in terms of acceptance and rehabilitation?
  • Why is it surprisingly difficult for a country to rise rapidly out of a recession when it is relatively common knowledge that one of the best ways to stimulate the economy again is to start investing in the market during such difficult times?
  • What are the future implications of the “identification revolution,” such as in terms of sexual and romantic attraction, on society and thus the economy? (The Asexual Spectrum is one major part of this revolution)
  • In reference to the previous question, how readily is society to accept those who identify differently from the “norm,” and what are the possible responses of those who don’t believe such identifications exist, or those that believe that mental illness or trauma are the cause of such identifications?
  • Why is minimum wage so low in most states? Does the Government really expect people to live off of that amount?
  • Being a dairy farmer (my comment was on the board about the dairy industry), I would like to learn more about how the international industry affects the local business such as dairy farms.
  • How will supply and demand impact a small business?
  • How can micro (or macro) economics affect me personally?
  • Why are fishing and hunting licenses increasing?
  • In Germany, higher education is provided by the government and essentially free. Why in America is that not the same?
  • Why do markets and businesses send their work to foreign nations instead of keeping it domestic to help handle and lower the unemployment rate?
  • Commercials and advertisements constantly broadcast joining the military. Why is it that once veterans return, there is not enough aid and support for them?
  • My parents grew up with the mindset of paying off their debt and loans. In this age, it seems that the use of plastic has surpassed the use of cash. Why have the financial mindset of people changed by using the credit card primarily and then worry about paying it later and living in debt?

My homework this weekend was to group their questions into the course. I’ve created a grid of topics/questions by course unit. We’ll refer to their questions as we learn about supply and demand, government interventions in markets, industrial organization, and related concepts. Questions that aren’t an easy fit in microeconomics (macro concepts for example) will be woven in briefly. I’m not sure how we’ll proceed with the deep philosophical questions…. Any ideas? Please share!

I’m excited to get to know my students through their questions. Knowing what matters or interests them helps me make the course relevant to them and personalizes their learning. It’s a little scary. I don’t have all the answers. But perhaps that’s the point. This term students are going to partner in learning with me, not just from me. How cool is that?!