Background

Belinda Archibong is a graduate student in the Sustainable Development department. She is one of two teaching assistants for the course “The Economics of Energy,” which challenges students to think about environmental policy decisions from an economic viewpoint. The course is targeted toward a wide audience, though the students are expected to come in already familiar with the principles of an intermediate microeconomics course and a basic energy systems course. Belinda’s course consists of a two-hour lecture once a week on Mondays with an optional one-hour recitation on Thursdays led by a TA. The TAs alternate leading the weekly recitation.

The recitation is meant to complement the lectures by focusing on the technical aspects of the course, such as the requisite economics and math background that the students might need a refresher on. The students have weekly essays due on Mondays, and a goal of the recitation held the previous Thursday is to help students be able to write those essays by going through a sample case study together while simultaneously reviewing the underlying economics and math concepts. The primary focus of the recitation is on working through a particular case study.

Andrea will come to Belinda’s recitation on October 23, when the topic of the week will be the price of electricity. Andrea will observe a typical recitation in which Belinda presents a case study and economics review material to the students via PowerPoint slides and the students work through the problems in real time. Andrea will also attend a session led by the other TA and compare measurable data from the two recitations related to the number and types of questions asked by the students and survey the students on the relative effectiveness of the two TA’s styles.

Belinda’s primary concerns going into the observation relate to the clarity with which she presents the material and her time management. She thinks that having Andrea observe the other TA’s recitation will offer her suggestions on how she might improve the effectiveness of her teaching. While she would be surprised if the other TA did anything drastically different, she is interested in hearing about the comparison.

Goals

Instructor’s learning goals for the observed recitation:
  • Bridge ideas across disciplines to elucidate topics in energy economics
  • Cultivate the students’ abilities to apply theoretical knowledge to practical application with relevant real world case examples
  • Deepen the students’ understanding of the implications of topics in physical geography (particularly climate change) for current energy policy
Instructor’s vision for measurable behavior related to learning goals:
  • Response to case studies: How quickly do the students work through case studies presented in class?
  • Language that students use in class: Are they able to clearly articulate economic ideas in plain speak? Which words do they use most frequently?
  • Student behavior at case study presentations: Do they seem bored? Confused? Belinda wants to know if the case study approach is engaging to the students.
    • o Are students asking questions during the recitation? What percentage of students are asking questions and how many questions are they asking?
    • o What percentage of students are attending the optional recitation? Are they arriving on time or are they only coming for the case study portion?
    • o What are the students’ motives for attending the recitation?

Observer's understanding of how the tracked session or assignment will be measured:
  • Timekeeper: Andrea will keep track of how long students are spending working on problems related to Belinda’s case study. She will also keep track of the length of each segment of the lesson plan that Belinda lays out at the beginning of class- Belinda is particularly concerned with making sure she spends the appropriate amount of time on each section of her outline.
  • Notetaker: Andrea will record and count frequently used words by the students using the word bank Belinda makes in conjunction with her recitation outline. She will also record the types of questions that the students ask Belinda, the number of students asking questions, and the number of questions each student asks. Audio recording will aid this process.
  • Andrea will count the number of students attending the session and note if they attend all or only part of the session.
  • Andrea will observe student behavior and perceived reactions to Belinda’s presentation
Outside of the observed session:
  • Andrea will review students’ homeworks with Belinda and look for any correlation between observed student behavior and homework performance. Specifically, we can do a word frequency analysis on the student essays to look for language trends related to Belinda’s word bank.
  • Andrea and Belinda will listen to an audio recording of the recitation to review Andrea’s observations and double check her data from the word bank and number of questions asked.
  • Andrea will attend a recitation led by the other TA to compare student participation levels (i.e, attendance and number of questions asked). She will be looking for large stylistic differences between the two TAs and will survey the students on the effectiveness of each of the two recitations.

Observation Activities

Before the observed class, Andrea will review the course syllabus and the handouts for the week, including the recitation outline that Belinda will distribute to the students and the accompanying word bank. She will also review PowerPoint slides from some of Belinda’s previous sessions to get a feel for the flow of the recitation.
Andrea will then attend Belinda’s recitation on October 23. She will come in to the class with Belinda and be briefly introduced, though Belinda will alert the students to Andrea’s observation in her previous session. Andrea will then sit in the back of the class where she will have a good vantage point of both the students and Belinda’s presentation. Belinda will present the review lesson and then the sample case study, after which the students work on problems related to the case study. Andrea will serve as a notetaker and time keeper, focusing on measuring the student behavior mentioned above. Andrea will use audio recording to help with her notetaking.

On October 30, Andrea will attend a recitation for the same class but led by the other TA. Andrea will again record frequently used words and measure the number of questions that the students ask. She will be looking for major stylistic differences between the two TAs and will survey the students on what they find most useful from each of the two recitations.
After the observed class, Andrea will review student homeworks with Belinda to look for connections between homework trends and student behavior during the recitation. In particular, we will do a word frequency comparison between the student essays and Andrea’s word bank notes from the recitation.


Timeline

10/2: Andrea and Belinda meet to write observation plan
10/6: Present observation plan to Teagle Fellows
10/9: Andrea and Belinda meet to revise observation plan after presentation
Prior to the observation: Belinda will inform the students of Andrea’s upcoming observation and will get instructor permission for Andrea to view students’ homeworks. (???)

10/23: Andrea observes Belinda's class:
8:45 Andrea arrives at 407IAB to meet Belinda and address any last second concerns.
9:00 Class begins. Belinda will introduce Andrea to the class. She then will run through some class logistics and the lesson plan for the day's session. Throughout the class, Andrea will observe from the back of the room and perform an audio recording of the recitation.
9:05-9:30: Belinda gives a refresher lesson on the economic and mathematical principles required for the upcoming case study and student essays due Monday. Andrea observes students’ reactions and keeps track of the questions they ask and the time spent on each portion of the lesson.
9:30 Belinda presents the sample case exercise relating to the day's lesson. Andrea will observe and record students’ responses to the case questions, noting the language they use.
9:40 Students begin working on the sample case exercise. Andrea will record how quickly the students work through the problems.
10 Class ends, and Belinda will tell students that she is staying behind for office hours. Andrea will record the number of students who stay behind for office hours

10/24: Andrea and Belinda meet to review notes from class observation in yesterday's class. With Belinda’s help, they determine the communicative success of the topic, language, and students' responses to questions and case studies throughout the class.
10/30: Andrea observes the recitation led by the other TA
11/21: Andrea and Belinda will meet to debrief the observation and to write the observation report.
Early December: Andrea and Belinda present their reflections about the observation to Teagle Fellows.