Monday, December 5, 2016

Blog 12: Critique

(I apologize for the timing of this blog. Preparation for a Calculus 3 final has, quite frankly, turned my brains to mush and I forgot about this blog until today.)
            As I was reflecting on the topic of reputations from last week, I reflected more on my own academic reputation and how it affects my behavior. In a sense, a good reputation has its own form of utility -- it is desirable, and developing more of a positive reputation can allow one to obtain "goods" such as a higher social standing and additional influence over others. As we saw in the wide variety of responses to last week's prompt, some people like to make choices that risk their reputations more often than others. Therefore, people might be categorized as risk-loving, risk-neutral, or risk-averse with regards to their reputations. I would definitely categorize myself as risk-averse with regards to my reputation as a strong, thoughtful student. If the boost in reputation gained from actions that further enhance one's reputation, such as receiving good results in school in my case, can be thought of as a "payout" for those actions, I am one to choose a lower expected payout in exchange for less risk involved in the payout. Before this semester, this was most evident in my humanities classes in which papers are written with a large range of possible topics and in which, due to the relatively subjective nature of grading in the humanities, it may be hard to predict whether the topic and content of your paper will be well-received. In those classes, sometimes I think of a potential topic that will result in a paper that I reasonably expect the instructor to look fairly favorably on (possibly because it agrees with many of the instructor's own talking points.) Sometimes in addition to that topic, I think of another possible topic that I am more interested in, but that in my view may result in either an extremely well-received paper due my interest in the topic allowing me to write a higher quality paper than I would have otherwise, or a less well-received paper due to the instructor's lack of investment in the topic. In the past, I usually chose the former, less risky type of topic due to my risk aversion when it comes to my reputation. It is certainly possible that a humanities instructor's grading may not be as capricious as I have portrayed it, but as I said, I am risk-averse. But maybe as I near the end of my undergraduate education with a solid GPA cushion, I will be less risk-averse in the coming semesters. The blogging environment in this class has already encouraged me to take a few such risks in this course, which I have rarely done before. I suppose it is worth noting that most of the risks I took in this class seemed to pay off at least fairly well. There are many other examples of people demonstrating risk-aversion with respect to their reputations, such as when actors might willingly typecast themselves into certain roles in an effort to avoid potentially poorly-received roles.


            Compared to other economics courses, the content of our course did not contain a particularly high number of concepts that were truly new to me. Rather, the lessons that I took from this course revolved mostly around challenging me to apply concepts I already knew in new ways pertaining to the economic environment within organizations. For example, I had already been introduced to the concept of transaction costs in another class. My work in this class showed me that transaction costs help determine the course of entire continuous relationships between economic agents in addition to whether an individual transaction will take place. In particular, my work on Coase's paper showed that incentives to avoid or reduce transaction costs were a driving factor behind the development of the close, continuous relationships between economic agents that gave rise to the firm. As another example, I was already familiar with the concept of coordination games at the beginning of the course. However, this course challenged me to apply the concept to continuous relationships in an organization, such as members' working and social relationships within my fraternity (which I talked about in my midpoint reflection,) by thinking of relationships as coordination games that are repeated until some unknown end point.
            Regarding the structure of the course, the aspect that was new to me was the idea of leaving comments on other students' work that would themselves be graded. This challenged me to learn to read over a peer's work with a critical eye that balanced recognizing the positive aspects and valid ideas within the work with recognizing certain fallacies, information that was left out that would have been useful, and other shortcomings. What was most interesting to me, though, was how I learned to ask questions about a student's work that went beyond simple requests for clarification or "what did you think of this experience?"-type questions. To ask insightful questions that might allow the other student to extend their work in the future, I had to be able to mull over a peer's ideas more thoroughly than I have had to before. I had to learn to ask myself "what are the main takeaways from the student's work? What would help shed more light on the subject matter?" 
            Another aspect of the course layout and how it affected me was that the repeated exercise of blogging taught me to write a "story" with the intention of evaluating its events from an economic perspective. I used this skill especially when writing the "Marble Machine," "Team Structure," and "Principal-Agent Problem" blogs. When writing blogs such as these, I had to be able to take the story I had in mind, whether it came from real life or my imagination, and ensure that I emphasized the relevant details that would lend themselves to an economic analysis. For example, in the Principal-Agent story about bartending, I had to emphasize the bar management's lack of monitoring in order to begin a discussion on the risks that come with an agent's cheating. I might not have thought of the bar's monitoring situation if I was simply chatting about the struggles involved with bartending with friends. To this end, I learned to put together a pre-writing process for my blogs in which I sketched an outline of the situation I had in mind, made a list of economic concepts that could possibly be relevant to the story, and worked to make connections between the concepts and the story. I would then leave my work for a while and come back later to ensure that everything made sense and was tenable through the lens of economic theory. I would make revisions as appropriate and then start writing the blog. While this process, which I began implementing approximately halfway through the semester, made my blogs take longer to finish than before, the improvement in reader reactions I saw made the extra time and effort over writing a blog in one burst worth it. The excel homework was simpler. I read over the instructions on the main course blog, watched any preparatory materials given, and did the homework as diligently as I could. Here is where I have to complement the instructor on his highly proficient use of Excel -- I was honestly very impressed as I was completing the first few assignments, as I did not know an excel sheet could do all of that. As a ballpark figure, the total time spent actually working on my blog once I started using the pre-writing process comes to approximately four hours per week. Time taken on excel assignments varied greatly, taking anywhere from half an hour to two hours (not counting time spent watching videos.) 
            Ways that I believe this course could be improved might include more choices given in the weekly blog prompts. While the option to depart from the prompt stood for the entire semester, it was a bit difficult to use because of students' natural concerns over whether their customized topic might be considered truly relevant to the course material or not. Also, the student-instructor relationship might be thought of as a transaction of a completed blog post in exchange for a grade. In that case, the creative work that would go into thinking of a new prompt might be thought of as increasing the effort costs of the transaction beyond a favorable level for the average student. More dual-option blog posts like this last one might allow for a greater variety and quality of blog posts than what was seen in this semester, as students could choose the prompts they feel they are the most qualified to respond to. Another thing that might be helpful is to have "hints" on more difficult problems on excel worksheets that struggling students could click on to reveal as needed. Because worksheet problems could not be skipped without losing the ability to earn any credit, some of the more difficult worksheets had problems that proved to be almost insurmountable hurdles for someone still getting used to the subject matter.


  1. Regarding risk aversion and performance and its impact on your reputation, I hope you never experience writer's block, but if you keep writing you almost surely will. The source of the problem, I've experienced it a fair amount, is with thinking too much about that person who is reading the writing. A little bit maybe okay, particularly to get at the topic as you did. But then trying to compose the piece that person should get out of your head. If the person is still there, the writing probably isn't.

    As to the course, you are the first student who wrote about commenting on other student's post as to the substance of it. I wonder if you ever went back to see if the author responded to your comment. One measure of how effective the comment is can be found in the response it generates.

    Thank you for the comments about my use of Excel, but it might surprise you to learn that all of that is achieved with built in functions - no programming at all. There are are few keys to it: (1) When the font has the same color as the background it looks like there is nothing in the cell (2) likewise in a graph if it is plotted outside the range of what is to be displayed then it appears not to be there, (3) the =IF() function, and (4) something called conditional formatting. The bigger issue is having some imagination to produce the desired outcome.

    That same thought applies to the economics. Having the tools (models) is one thing. Using them in an interesting way is quite another. I applaud you for trying where you classmates don't seem to do that. Know, however, it takes quite a lot of practice to apply them well.

    1. Thanks for the bit about writer's block. I'll keep that in mind. I've also heard that the best way to cure writer's block is to force yourself to keep writing something anyway, even if you know you'll go back to change it later. This is because, according to some people, writer's block is often simply one's subconscious asking their conscious mind for a break. By ignoring the desire for a break, you break through the writer's block. I have gone back to check on a few of my comments, but students generally don't seem to respond to each other. It's interesting how you managed to create such complete learning experiences in the excel worksheets using mostly functions I already know.

      Thank you for seeing that I did indeed put an honest effort into my blog posts. It has actually been quite satisfying to see the change in their audience reception over time. I'll look forward to applying what I learned in this class in both my future economics classes and the job world. Not only do I hope to use the models in this class to improve my school and job performance, but I also hope that exercising my skills at using them will improve my analytical mind -- which is a major reason for my choosing the economics major in the first place.