Friday, December 5, 2014

Thoughts about the course: my Final Blog Post.

I would like to start off this blogpost by introducing my thoughts on an article that I have recently read. The article was analyzing why students in the Economic programs or Business programs in their undergraduate years are having a hard time finding jobs compared to the students in Engineering programs these days (sadly, it is true for South Korea at the moment. I believe it is slowly turning into a similar situation in US too). The writer's main claim was that even though the students who study in the Economics or Business programs aim for officer or manager positions, the things they learn in the university has nothing to do with their future jobs. Rather, the students were, and are learning theoretical things in their classes. "The things that they teach in Business schools are how to wrap the cover of a product in a beautiful way. They do not teach how to sell the product. It's sad, but I see this as the inevitable truth." (This is a direct translation from the article)

Reading this article, myriads of thoughts came into my head in and out. And in the center of those thoughts, I slowly pondered how my ECON 490: Economics of Organization class was done this semester. I had to, because this class actually was a new, fresh experience in regards of the way of learning Economics with my years in UIUC.

The main point I wanted to give credit to my professor and his class was that he was actually trying to tie up his experience as a CIO (and associate dean) for UIUC eLearning in the College of Business. Instead of reading the text book and memorizing the main concepts for the midterm and finals, we were to actually think about the real life example from the experiences that we went through while we were inside the organizations ourselves. While doing so, we went through the concepts we were to learn in the textbooks with some real life examples from the professor in class, which actually helped me to get a little bit more of grasp on the concepts we had to comprehend. Some people might say 'Hey, that's just something that can happen in class. What's so special about it?' Maybe they are true. But I also know that most of the professors in Econ department DO NOT try to use out of class materials to convey the fact that out of the class materials are actually important for the future. I'm not saying that in-class materials are not important, but I feel like the education towards the pragmatic things are now kicking in as more important point in today's job markets.

The excel work sheet for each concepts were actually a great source to learn the concepts that helped me to familiarize myself with the main topics of the class. Although the concepts were to be approached by using examples in real organization situations, getting a firm grasp on the theoretical part is nevertheless an important thing to do for understanding. There were quite frequent typos, which made me giggle while reading the excel sheet over and over again for understanding it thoroughly. But I think the excel homeworks were a really great way of learning things with explanations written by the professor himself, making me feel that he actually put in effort to give us the learning we need in a way that we could access whenever and wherever we wanted to see.

Blog posts were also an unique way to check our current status in the class. I really liked how the topics were related to our course, and we had to 'twist' our thoughts to give the insights that actually satisfied the professor. His feed backs were given out in the class after the blog post was written, and sadly, I often saw him not too much satisfied with the blog posts that were written. One thing that might help the students learn the additional thoughts that requires 'twist' in thoughts would be a little bit of more emphasis in the class while describing it. To be honest, the class was actually in a slightly fast pace. I know that the students didn't ask too much questions, and as a result the professor didn't have too much to elaborate on the concepts that would rather have been fun if explored (can't blame anyone on that!). However, even if the students do not ask, I believe that getting exposed to the concepts, which would be just passed away without even a notice, is a great difference to the students' knowledge. I know it sounds like one has to put the food in students' mouth and actually move the students' jaws up and down with hands to make them chew, but I feel it really makes a great difference by knowing the concept and dwelling on it once more to write the blog post.

Overall, I really enjoyed the class. The topics of the class were very interesting to me and the methods of teaching was fresh experience for me as a student. A thing that is etched inside my head is this: "You will not use these things when you are starting your career after 2~3 years. When you start your career, it is highly likely that you will not start your position as a manager." Of course, the specifics of the class are aimed for managerial positions. However, I think there are more to this class than just learning the textbook materials that helps you calculate the economic rent with the formula. I know I learned much more than what I had to learn in this class, and I know this class will be remembered when I am trying to communicate with my staffs 15 years later in my job place.


  1. Hey - if you made note of those typos in Excel, please let me know. I didn't do that intentionally, even if they did make you giggle.

    I think you should understand the professors teach what they know. Twenty years ago, before I had any experience as an administrator, I would have taught a purely theoretical class, because I had no relevant experience to teach a course steeped in practical realities. Plus, at that time I had not yet learned about how others learn. Our current course reflects both of these things. It is good that this old dog (me) can still practice some new tricks.

    There is a different way, however, where pure economic theory can help you and I therefore would take issue with that article. This is to give you practice in representing very complex reality with fairly simple abstract models and making sense of reality by analyzing the model. If you get good at this it is an important life skill and you can start to make your own models to fit the situation you are in. But you only learn this by after reading the textbook reconstructing what you were exposed to on your own. Memorization doesn't do it, which is why I'm so down on memorization. You have to reproduce the results yourself. It is more laborious but you do learn that way and that learning does have payoff down the road, even if it is not immediately evident.

    You are right that my course is oriented toward a managerial perspective. But I believe it helpful even in your first position to understand the managerial approach. It will help you make sense of how things are done and why they are done that way.

    1. Thank you for the last comment on my blog post, professor Arvan! I will try to make a summary of the typos in the Excel while I review everything for the finals. Not only me, but I am pretty sure the students know that you did not make those mistakes intentionally, and I would be more than happy to point out those typos for better future use.

      I have read your comment, and I agree that professors do teach students what they know the best. I was not trying to emphasize that the things we learn in our classes nowadays are bad or anything. It was just an exclamation of the new method of the class that I have never experienced before with the overlapping thoughts on my situation (to be more precise, the students who are thinking about "why is it so hard to get a job these days for the non-engineering students?") after reading that particular post. I know that the things we will learn will not change in the Economics curriculum; the things we learn now are the things we ought to learn when we want to learn the art of Economics. Part of the pure Economic theories will definitely help not only me, but those who learn them and know how to use the theories in the right time and situation. However, to reiterate, the point I wanted to make was not to criticize anything, but to express how I was amazed by the new way of teaching the class and accessing to the students with the core concepts that should be learned. I know economists are proud to be what they are, and I do understand that the professors have no further obligations to teach something outside the curriculum that is already scripted before the semester starts (probably it had been continuing for years). It is just a small epiphany, from taking this class and thinking about the current situations for getting employed, that the students would benefit much more to learn from the professor's personal, actual experience about the real-life situations.

      As always, I cannot agree more on your comment about how the 'reconstructing' helps one out in the actual life they experience. It might not be an ultimate method of truly learning things, since the experience while one goes through working is another counter part of the learning, but I do believe that it is one of the most effective ways to make the theory or concept as mine. Of course, I do not think the article is the sole truth for interpreting the current situations for what would benefit the students when they are learning something. Even though an increasing number of students are really worried about getting a job in the world nowadays, I strongly believe that the problem will be a short termed one until they get employed and they will move on to the bigger problems that would require much more pondering. However, I also believe that no one can deny that the employment problem is a serious problem even as a shortly termed one. The pure economic theory can help us in various aspects in our life, but I know that there are limitations to the help that we can benefit from it. I am not trying to say the economic curriculum has to change as a whole; as mentioned above, as a student, I was thinking that identifying the students' needs and redirecting the path of the course in a slight way would actually benefit the students in a great amount. I once again acknowledge that the professors have no obligation to do so whatsoever, but you actually said that 'It is good that this old dog (me) can still practice some new tricks.' Model 2 learning from the Schon&Argyris tells us to question the methods that we are used to, and challenge them if they are not efficient (smile). Of course, since I am a student, I am only thinking about the students' point of view, but I believe that this will help a lot of students out if done.

    2. I am freely writing my thoughts on this matter since it was to be a blog post for my overall thoughts on the class. I do occasionally express these ideas to professors after semester, but the reality is that almost no professors are curious about what I think, or the students think about the class (it's normal, I understand why it is like that, and do not have any problems with it). I do not know how I would have reacted if I met you 20 years ago when you did not have any administrative experience, and when you were focusing on the theoretical parts as the most important thing that one should embrace while learning Economics. However, the professor Arvan that I have met on Fall 2014 in the 'Econ 490: Economics of Organizations' was an eye opening, wonderful professor. I really am glad that I took this course and have a chance to know a wonderful professor like you. I do not know if you have time to read my replies to your comment, but I hope that you were, are, and will be one of the most impressive professors that I have met during my undergraduate year. Thank you for your wonderful classes. I really do appreciate them :)