Friday, December 2, 2016

Course Review

The Economics of Organizations was a class very different from every other class I have taken.  It was multi-faceted; split between in-class discussions, excel assignments, blog posts and comments, a group essay, and several online videos and readings.  This dynamic approach allowed for ample learning, but it also had some drawbacks.  In this post I will discuss some lessons I learned, personal views on the course, how I approached the course material, and ways I think the course could be improved.
Coming in to the class, I felt that I already had some good background knowledge on the topic of Organizations and how they are run.  On top of several courses in basic Economic theory, I have taken courses on Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Theories in Leadership, and Business as a Force in American Society.  I chose to take Economics of Organizations because organizations and they way they are run interest me very much.  At the beginning of the semester, I felt like I already knew about the topics we discussed such as gift exchange.  This quickly changed as we moved on to more advanced and complex topics.  Even learning about gift exchange was valuable for me because (though I had heard about the topic before) it helped me solidify the idea in Economic terms.  A few topics that stood out to me and that I learned the most from were the Triangular-Principal-Agent model and the idea of shirking.  Through the Triangular-Principal-Agent model, I was able to see more clearly about how tasks look different to different members of the organization and how this may affect outcomes and motivation.  Learning about shirking was surprising for me, because I never realized that this type of thing is accounted for.  Being someone who tends to follow the rules and worry about what might happen if things aren’t done correctly, it wasn’t completely clear to me that shirking was something so concrete which could, in some ways, be measured and accounted for.  I did not think it was much of a problem, and if it was, then I didn’t think it could be measured.  I see now, however, that attempting to measure and account for shirking is important and can increase the productivity of an organization.
I learned a lot about the topics we discussed in class, but I think that the pedagogic approach could have been better.  I would have rather heard more about the professor’s views and theories rather than those of my classmates.  In most cases, I felt that my classmates and I knew much less about the topics and the Economics behind them than our professor did.  Even so, I think we all learned a lot from the way the questions in class were structured.  Asking questions to help point our thinking in certain directions allowed us to use our own thought processes to come up with the conclusions we were supposed to.  Though this may not have happened perfectly, it was a valuable learning experience.
My process for blogging and doing the excel homework was relatively consistent throughout the semester.  I read the blog prompt and thought about how it related to the things we were doing in class.  I tended to wait at least a few hours (sometimes up to a day or two) before writing my post.  This allowed the prompt to “sink in” and helped me think of connections and roughly organize what I wanted to write.  Then I typed out my blog post in Google docs first before posting it on my blog.  As for the excel homework, I usually tried to start it as soon as it was released.  Often, the mathematical/economic principles were hard for me to grasp and I took a long time completing the homework.  I would post a question on the discussion board if I was still confused or ask my fellow group members for help.  
I have only a few suggestions for ways the course might be improved.  At times, I felt that there was a lot going on in the course at once; with the blog posts, excel homework, discussion-style lectures, textbook readings, and updates to the course website, I found it hard to gauge which information was most important and which was supplementary.  I felt like there was a lot of information being thrown at us at once, which made the class feel overwhelming and sometimes confusing.  Even so, I think that this method forces us to think about what all the different connections might be and come up with our own conclusions about the course.  This, I think, is a very valuable way to learn because it requires deep thinking and an ability to integrate many topics and methods of thinking.  The only suggestion I have for improving this would be to potentially hand out a course outline that is visually easy to understand.  What I mean by this is maybe some sort of info-graphic with the main course topics and large, bold print, connected to other course details and topics in a smaller font.  It would look sort of like a mind map.
Another suggestion I would give is to restructure the blogging aspect of the course.  I felt that the comments could have been more like a discussion in themselves, but I tended to not read my partners’ responses to my own posts until much later, and when we commented on each others’ posts, no one responded to the comments.
Overall, I learned a lot from the course Economics of Organizations, and I thought it was very dynamic and structured differently than other classes I have taken.  I enjoyed reading my partners’ blog posts and reading comments that others wrote on my own blogs.  I learned about organizational efficiency in terms more concrete and Economics-based than I ever did before.


  1. One of the issues for me as a teacher is whether I get feedback about what you are thinking during the live class session. Over the years I have learned that some students prefer to listen than to participate by responding to my questions. And as long as there are some students who are responding, overall that can work reasonably well. When nobody responds, however, the listeners in the audience don't get as much out of the session. For that reason, I think many instructors try to encourage students to open up, even if that creates some discomfort for them.

    It is interesting to hear you wanting to prioritize the information and that I/the course should do that for you. My view on this is that you build your own narrative of understanding about what we are discussing. Information that fits into that narrative becomes important. Not everyone builds the same exact narrative, because parts of the individual are in it.

    Now, of course, on the math modeling there is closer to a "right answer" than there is on the blogging and it is with the math modeling that you seemed to have a hard time. So there are some puzzles there which you might still work through.

    I also found your comments about shirking interesting, especially since you've told the class that you are an RA in a dorm. Doesn't juvenile/irresponsible behavior of students come out on occasion in that context? Or does everyone act in a mature way from the get go? I would be very surprised if that were true.

    You are right that the commenting is an imperfect mechanism. But I will say that I did encourage people to write some about the prompt from the week before, yet only one student in the class took the bait on that one. If students really did that then the comments of other students might be more meaningful to the author.

    1. I agree with what you said about each student building their own narrative about the course; I definitely have done this in a lot of my classes over the years and I have a lot of thoughts about the overarching lessons in this class, though I am not sure if they are too heavily based on my own past experiences and patterns of thought. I think it would be interesting to have some sort of baseline at the beginning of the class that everyone brainstorms together, then we each build off of that baseline for ourselves as the semester progresses.

      I did not think of it in this context before, but there is definitely irresponsible behavior that I see while working as an RA. For example, when I host a monthly floor meeting, just under half of the residents will show up, if I'm lucky. A lot of times, residents will completely ignore the emails I am sending them or the meetings I ask them to attend. I guess I did not consider this shirking because they are not working for me and thus are not required to do anything. Also, I do see students display irresponsible and sometimes dangerous behaviors in the hall. I considered this an inevitable part of the residence hall life experience, though maybe I should reconsider my views on it. In terms of the workplace, it also makes sense to say that shirking is inevitable in an organization, so it must be accounted for.

  2. Your suggestion about the course outline seem to be helpful. I think it would help a lot in helping us understanding the big picture of the course.

    I particularly agree with your opinions on the blog commenting. If the commenting is organized as an ongoing discussion, it would be much more helpful. A lot of the comments from our teammates are very interesting and inspiring, and I actually did try to reply once. But I later found it takes too much of my time if I wanted to wrote a reply with good quality. The blogging, reading teammates' blogs, writing comments to their blog, and replying to professor's comments, have already taken a great amount of time, so although I wanted to, I did not keep on replying to group-mates' comments. But it would be definitely beneficial if the conversation is continued.