Boot Camp Economics

How did you spend your winter break? For most students it did not include more course work! But for 1,152 UConn students it was an opportunity to take an intensive two-week Winter Intersession course. Five of the 55 Winter 2010 classes offered at the Storrs campus were online courses. Classes began December 28, 2009 and ended January 15, 2010–only 19 calendar days for a course that usually spans a 15-week semester. One of the online courses was Econ 1201, Principles of Microeconomics, taught by Prof. Oskar Harmon. Students taking the course signed up for 16 days of online lectures, homework, and exams, with two days off for New Year’s Eve and Day, and one day to prepare for a proctored cumulative 2-hour final exam.

Some students apparently had second thoughts about spending their entire winter break immersed in economics: only 30 of the 45 students who initially signed up for the course remained enrolled when the class began. Two of the four course exams were proctored. Most students sat for the proctored exams in the Center for Undergraduate Education (CUE) building at Storrs, but some took the exams at other campuses (UConn-Stamford, University of Rochester, and University of Maryland).

Twenty-seven students completed the course, and the average score on the cumulative final exam differed by only one point from the average final exam score in the same course taught by Professor Harmon in the regular Fall 2009 term. Students in the two courses had similar self-reported GPAs and a similar distribution of majors, but students in the winter course typically were closer to graduation: about 40% were seniors compared to only about 20% in the fall course. Also a much larger percentage of students were not working during the winter course (45%) than during the fall course (20%). In an exit poll, students were asked: “Knowing what you know now, would you recommend a similar intensive online course to a friend?” and “Can you describe the experience of taking a 16-week course in a 2-week term?” About 25% of the respondents would definitely take a similar course and consistently described the experience as “intense, but a good use of my time.” About 50% would possibly recommend this intersession course to a friend. Their descriptions of the experience ranged from: “Really hard; if you are not fully committed to this course you will not do well,” to “Very, very challenging. I put so much effort into doing well in the course and I was still struggling. A lot of information to tackle in 2 weeks.” And 25% would likely or definitely not recommend the course to a friend, describing the experience as: “Not recommended, too compressed,” and “Econ is much too hard to learn over the Internet.”

An email from a student who completed the 2-week micro course and is now taking the companion 16-week macro course describes the experience as an “immersion” and notes that: “I feel like I’m slacking when I don’t pick up a macro book everyday, because my mindset from micro was all day every day.”