April 22 2015

Five exceptional teachers have been selected as recipients of the 2015 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in Memory of Charles B. Murphy. This week, Purdue Today will feature Q&As on each of the recipients. This Q&A focuses on Larry DeBoer, professor of agricultural economics.

Years at Purdue: 31  

Teaching interests: I've been teaching AGEC 217, Introductory Macroeconomics, since the mid-1980s.  It's a freshman-sophomore level course that satisfies social science requirements in most of the majors on campus.

The most important lesson DeBoer wants students to take away: What happens in the economy is important, and they have the tools to understand it. When the time comes, our graduates can engage their financial advisors about their future plans. They can assess the effects of recession and expansion on their jobs and businesses, and they can evaluate the claims of elected officials and candidates for office about fiscal and monetary policy.

On using technology such as Boilercast, Signals and Gradient as part of his instruction: Like many professors, I think that higher education ought to be done in small classes of 10 or 20 or 30, where discussion and personal attention can help students master the course material. Resources do not exist at Purdue to operate many courses at that level. Our budget and personnel constraints require the “economies of scale” that come from large classes.

These technologies are an attempt to create small-class benefits in a large-class setting. Lectures are recorded so students can revisit course content. Signals offers in-semester evaluations of student progress. Gradient allows writing assignments in large classes. In a small class a professor would give personal attention to these aspects of education. The technologies simulate this personal attention for classes of hundreds.

What DeBoer enjoys most about teaching: I enjoy creating a course or assignment or lecture, researching the topic, finding materials to illustrate the ideas, and weaving the story together. I enjoy the one-on-one interaction with students before and after class, and at office hours (which is ironic for a large class, I suppose). And I enjoy the performance in the classroom.

DeBoer's advice to other faculty considering redesigning their own courses through the IMPACT program: Be prepared for a lot of work, but expect to get a lot of help. I've never worked so hard as the summer between my IMPACT semester and the start of the revised course. It might have been advisable to introduce changes one at a time over several semesters, but I was excited about the possibilities and adopted a lot of changes all at once. But I've been so grateful for all the help and advice I've received from the Center for Instructional Excellence, from ITaP and from the Libraries, both conceptual and technical. Those connections have continued to this day, four semesters into the revised course.

What his students say: This course surprised me. I thought it would be miserable, but after taking this course, I think Professor DeBoer is in my top 5 favorite professors from Purdue. Professor DeBoer's enthusiasm for the material in this course was infectious.  ... I wanted to send you a quick email to say that your style of teaching is fun and effective. Since taking your class a year or so ago I have moved to North Carolina and am now attending the university in Charlotte for UNC. The credit for taking your class was substituted for an introductory level course here, so I now have to take another Macroeconomics class. As I sit here and the instructor teaches, I find myself smiling because I am already very familiar with the topics and I only have you to thank.

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