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A look at why I started the Economics Media Library and how much we have both grown since then.
It’s the first Monday of the month, which means you get to learn something about me! Back in 2014, I started a website that has grown beyond what I ever could have imagined it would become. The goal of the Economics Media Library at the time was just to post videos I was showing in my class so that my students could go back and rewatch them as they prepared for their exams. Since then it has become a serious teaching tool that people around the world have used in their classrooms. It’s also seriously changed my career expectations, for the better.
Here’s a look at the “All Time” visitor dashboard for the site:
There are currently 565 scenes posted to the site, and no I didn’t find all of those myself! There have been a lot of great submissions from other educators or students. While a few of the videos do appear on other “teaching with media” sites, I try not to post videos that are included on show-specific sites. There are currently sites dedicated to displaying the economic concepts found in shows like Seinfeld, The Office, Modern Family, Breaking Bad, Superstore, and my personal favorite, Parks and Recreation. There are also sites dedicated to Broadway shows, Moneyball, and even country music.
Students are logging in from all over the country to watch these clips and learn economics. Last week alone, there were visits from the University of Maine all the way to Hawaii Pacific University. I have always used a heavy dose of pop culture in the classroom, but I never thought other educators would benefit as much as they have from a library of resources. Here’s a small segment of every scene I show in my principles class:
The first few years of the site were really just a place to share with my students the clips I was using in class. I wasn’t really focused on doing much with it because I had started a project with Wayne Geerling, Dirk Mateer, Ben Smith, and James Tierney to catalog The Big Bang Theory series. We eventually published Bazinganomics and then published a paper in the Online section of The Journal of Economic Education. That paper is currently my most cited work!
After that project was over, I realized that the Economics Media Library could be a lot bigger and help a lot of others. I went back through my old slides and found clips that I had stopped using to put on the site. I then started searching through Critical Commons for more great clips. I offered bonus credit to my students to find scenes from shows they were watching. The site grew quickly, and by the time I submitted it for publication in the Online section of The Journal of Economic Education, it had 400+ clips:
I would eventually write additional papers and go to conferences to present on creative ways to teach with media. All of that work eventually culminated in the book offer and then a book that will come out this summer. But there was a moment between Bazinganomics and Economics Media Library where I almost changed my focus.
I finished my PhD in 2014 and was convinced my job at Penn State was just a stepping stone to a tenure-track job. In case you didn’t know before, I don’t have tenure. I’m a teaching professor, which means I have limited job security compared to most of my friends who have earned guaranteed lifetime employment. With that said, I’m not required to do any research and am only reviewed annually on my teaching and service. I assumed I would take the first few years of my new job and focus on developing a clearer research agenda and apply for tenure-track jobs after I had more publications. That did not happen.
I found out (stubbornly) that you can’t just take a part of your dissertation and submit it for publication. My dissertation was in sports economics, which is an incredibly engaging field, but I couldn’t get anything published in 2014 or 2015. The “traditional” publication track is about one paper per year and I had zero. I started working on papers with other teaching specialists and we published two pedagogy papers in 2016. I realized early in 2017 that things weren’t going the way I had planned, and that I needed to rethink my goals of becoming a sports economists. The research section of my CV wasn’t looking very impressive:
I had a really tough semester in the Fall of 2015, and completely changed how I was teaching in Spring 2016. You can learn more about that on Abdullah’s YouTube channel (thanks Abdullah). I realized in late 2016 that I was pretty good at teaching, and a lot of that motivation came from the Economics Media Library. Perhaps that’s where I could make a big impact. I spent 2017 partnering with other teaching specialists and ended up pumping out a lot of research. The economics publication path is notoriously slow, so while most of the work was done in 2017, these were all officially published in 2018:
An In-Class Experiment to Teach Marginal Revenue Product Using the Baseball Labor Market and Moneyball (with Dusty White)
Create Random Assignments: A Cloud-Based Tool to Help Implement Alternative Teaching Material (with Ben Smith)
Economics Media Library (just me)
Lesson Plans for Teaching Economics with The Big Bang Theory (with Dirk, Wayne, James, and Ben)
Four publications in one year are impressive on their own, but I actually had two more. Once I stopped trying so hard to be something I wasn’t (a “true” sports economists), I started to realize what was wrong with my other work. I became more comfortable with who I was (a teaching specialist) and that helped me be more critical of my own work. I ended up publishing two parts of my dissertation as well in 2018:
Rivalries in US Professional Soccer (in International Journal of Sport Finance)
A Case for Complements: Location and Attending in Major League Soccer (in Applied Economics Letters)
I owe a lot of credit to the Economics Media Library because most of my research agenda is based on that site. It was opened opportunities for me that I don’t think would have been available if I was “just a sports economist.” That includes an entire line of educational videos for Course Hero and writing an entire book on how Parks and Recreation is a great source for learning economics. A follow-up project after Economics Media Library was on how to use the show Adam Ruins Everything to teach economics. Once the paper was finally published, I shared a screenshot on Instagram and Adam Conover himself shared it on his story:
It has been a wild few years and even more wild to look back and realize I almost didn’t get to where I am now because I was so stubbornly focused on being a sports economist and landing a tenure-track job. I tell my students every year that I have the best job in the world because I spend my free time thinking about ways to make my “normal job” more engaging. All of that work pays off in waves because I know that investment helps many more people than I’ll ever know. So while I’ve taught thousands of my own students, I’ve also helped other educators teach their students. The Course Hero video series has helped students I’ll never meet learn a little bit more.
At the end of each semester, I share the following image with my students. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “purpose.” I save my Last Lecture to talk with them about how it’s okay if they don’t know what they want to do in college. I teach mostly freshmen, and I teach in the Fall, so many of them have experienced a lot of changes, both personally and academically. I talk through how important it is to me that I’m a teacher. I believe I’m really good at what I do, I’m thankful that I can be paid doing for teaching, I believe the world needs more teachers, and I absolutely love what I’m doing:
Facts and Figures You Didn’t Know You Wanted
I have assigned grades to 6,826 students since my first class in 2012 [Author’s data]
At its peak, The Big Bang Theory had 20.36 million viewers [Wikipedia]
Reading Goals & Reading Progress
It’s Week 13 of 2021 and I’ve officially checked in 15 books. I finished American Kingpin and really enjoyed it. I looked up some more information about the case online, and I think I need more time to process everything that happened.
I started a book this past weekend that I learned about from my friend Abdullah. Thanks to him, my library has grown significantly.
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