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Faculty Experiences - Bryan Ellickson

Bryan Ellickson - photoBRYAN ELLICKSON


Interview Topics
What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?

Exercises & assignments

Working in parallel

Work with real data


Internet resources

Mathcad (software)

Making Learning Less Abstract

I try to design courses that I would have liked to take when I was an undergraduate. I majored in physics and toyed with several other majors. What I looked for in classes was to see what the field was about and how it could be used in real life. And more importantly, if this was something I could see myself doing in the future.

The courses I teach involve a lot of mathematics. Because many students find math concepts hard to comprehend, I try to use computers to provide intuition about the math. My first efforts in that direction, years ago, involved a program called  Mathcad, which I still use. The use of this program and others make learning less abstract. In terms of technology, this is probably the biggest thing I do in class--to incorporate programs like this into the curriculum and assignments to help math seem more intuitive.

For the classes I'm currently teaching, every student has a computer in front of them in the classroom. This setup makes it possible to teach those classes--it almost impossible for me now to imagine teaching them any other way. Before, when I used a computer lab rather than the computer classroom, the one-on-one process to teach these concepts using computers was unbelievably time-consuming. With  computers in the classroom, the students and I are  running in parallel. It's as if you're teaching one student even though you're in parallel with forty-eight students, something impossible to imagine a few years ago.
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My class uses sophisticated stock data. The first two years I taught the class, I used stock data from Yahoo Finance, which is a free service. The problem is that this data has no historical memory. If a company goes bust, the data is no longer on the Internet. Seeing only the "winners" sends an erroneous message to people about how the stock market works because in the stock market failure is just as important as success. Last year, with the assistance of the Anderson Business Schoolwe were able to acquire much more historically complete data from Wharton Reseach Data Service (WRDS), an  Internet site run by the University of Pennsylvania to provide a wide range of financial data. The students get access to a wealth of stock information that would otherwise not be available to them. This has made a huge impact on my students.
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My students get an account with a password to access this data for class assignments. In the classroom we get exposed to the tools and concepts, but a lot of the learning--perhaps most--happens when they do their assignments and exercises in the lab or at home. We have had support from OID for TA help in the labs and both undergraduate and graduate RA's to develop the data and programs. It takes a lot of additional support to teach this type of class. In terms of computer literacy, students run the gamut from extremely sophisticated to those who might have trouble using an ATM machine. The need for a lot of hands-on training to bring students to a functional level is crucial.
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Computer literacy is a hurdle, but conceptual hurdles regarding the models we are using are at least as important. I don't separate the two. Learning the programs and learning the math are very interconnected, which is probably the essence of what I do in the computer classroom.

Although many students find my courses quite difficult, reactions of the students have been quite positive. Teaching the class has been very time consuming. I had preconceptions regarding teaching in a computer classroom that I have continually had to modify. I made assumptions about what students know about computers and I made assumptions about the best order of presenting materials that I have had to alter based on experience. It has been a lot of work. It has also been the best teaching experience I have ever had.

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Oral Interview, 2003
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