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August 23, 2007

Comments

Cindy Yu-Hsin Chou

As a senior, I have taken many political economy/poli sci/history courses, and I appreciated Professor Delong’s attempts to integrate this class into a grander scheme within other PEIS classes and our concentration in the papers and subject matter. I even enjoyed writing the papers and being able to integrate into a bigger scheme, and also appreciated the flexibility that we could incorporate. However, for non-PEIS-major students and younger classmates who have not taken other background classes, I could see how this class could be extremely unstructured and lacking a base to build the information upon. Having said that, in general, I would recommend the following changes for the future:
1. Make this less like a graduate class, and more like an undergraduate course. I am not trying to undermine the intelligence of undergrads, but keep in mind that there are many students taking the course who are not PEIS majors and have little background, and therefore do not have a common base to build their knowledge upon.
2. Less emphasis on web assignments, as they do not *really* encourage discussion but rather everybody scrambling to finish their readings every week and attempting to sound like they have an argument. The grading scale was set way too much in favor of the web assignments, and moreover, as there was no feedback given on our grades and how to make our arguments better, I felt that this assignment was unfair and unconstructive, and learned little from them.
3. Integrate structure. From day one, the expectations were unclear, grading was unclear, and web assignments were unclear. Lectures did not really integrate or even serve to guide the reading, though this improved throughout the semester. I realize that Delong is trying to teach us to think, but still, it would be helpful to build around themes, integrate class lectures and readings, present a more tangible argument in class, have an outline. With that, everyone can be put on the same page, and in section, perhaps there could be more of an effective and interesting discussion. Instead of a blog, try using bspace for announcements, as well as web assignments (there are forums) should you decide to continue with them.

pierre mouillon

As a lot of classmates already pointd out, i think that this class was really well structured at the beginning. However, I have to give professor delong a lot of credit for having listened to students issues (mostly about the amount of reading) and then improved the quality of this course throughout the semester. I think one of the best idea i have read so far is the proposal of an outline for the lectures because i found myself lost a lot of time when professor Delong expanded so far on his considerable overall knowledge that i could see the relationship with the main argument anymore.
About section, I think it was great, my GSI did a tremendous job at leading a very useful and dynamic section. I just think that the way she structured the section was right, she was summarizing quickly each authors and every students came prepared with questions about the assigned reading and shared their point of view. I do not remember having such a helpful section in any other class so thanks Varanya.
Finally, i think grading was too long, it was really difficult to know how i was doing in the class but i like the % distribution and i really found the weekly postings a great idea as it enables us to share many different views.

Carolina Merizalde

I have to agree with previous comments in that Prof. Delong and our GSIs have done an outstanding job in overcoming the initial obstacles and create a cohesive concatenation of the themes presented in the readings we have covered. Prof. Delong’s encyclopedic historical knowledge always allowed lectures to be put in context and made political economy theories and concepts much more applicable to real life.
However, I would like to note three aspects of the class that could be improved in the future:
1. Papers – as Ellen mentioned earlier, our papers should be focused on the topics that we are currently covering in class. Even though they were very helpful in reviewing what we have learned in previous courses, I feel that they do not let us expose, to a full extent, what we have been learning in PEIS 101.
2. Grading – As has been suggested before, having 0-3 scale does not allow us to know how we are actually doing in the class, specially when only few 3s are assigned every week. Moreover, I feel that making this portion of the class 45% of our final grade should be fixed because the papers and the final should weight more than these weekly assignments.
3. Blog – Changing the organization of the blog to be divided by section was very effective. When having a smaller number of people posting it is easier to respond to their comments and engage in debate. However, I would have liked the due date to be moved towards the end of the week since having them done on Tuesdays is a little problematic because of assignments from other classes.
I would also suggest some monitoring on the comments that are posted given that in more than one occasion I encountered postings that had been taken off topic and deviated too much from the readings, this issue was further complicated by other students basing their comments off of those postings.
Overall, I would like to thank both Prof. Delong and Kristen Durham for all of their hard work and efforts invested in the attainment of a successful course. Best of luck next semester!

Arsalan Mahtafar

First of all, I must say that the course had too many reading assignments. The large amount of reading material that was assigned for this course discouraged me from keeping up with the class, and as a result, I felt that I was always behind. I would suggest that for the next class, the professor should assign reading excerpts, articles, or summaries rather than entire books. Also, reading material that will not be mentioned in lecture can be excluded altogether.

I enjoyed the lectures and the discussion sessions, and I believe the vast majority of my learning came from those two sources, as it should for an undergraduate. I do however, agree with Cindy that the web assignments were not that constructive and represent a disproportionate amount of our final grade. The term papers, on the other hand, should represent a larger share of our final grade. In my opinion, the grade should be divided as the following: 30% first paper, 30% second paper, 30% final exam, 10% section and participation and web assignments. Basically, the grade for the participation and section could be based on participating in discussion sessions and positing web assignments prior to discussion section.

Nick Nejad

I know this has repeated numerous times but I have to first say I mostly enjoyed the structure of this class. The weekly homework assignments forced students to stay up to date on their reading. There was a lot of freedom with what you chose to talk about on comments and short papers. The comments were also ongoing discussions and so promoted new ideas and debate. For the enthusiastic political economists, this structure worked out perfectly because it gave a range of topics and ideas along with the freedom to take it where you wanted.

That said, the only thing I could think of improving would be to help guide students into asking about “next level effects”, for lack of a better word. I had the benefit of attending a Warren Buffett/ Hillary Clinton fundraiser today and he said approximately- In economics, if you do X, it is critical to ask, “and then what?” This process of looking at and understanding the secondary and tertiary effects of actions is critical, but I think most people decided not to really push the comment discussions into these areas. Rather, they tended to focus closely around the author’s arguments. For example, whenever we read books which support government social programs, I would often hear people talk about how it is important to redistribute to those who “capitalism left behind.” But it was rarely asked what was meant by this. Was it because of bad choices, poor education or bad childhood? Was the environment they were brought up in unfit, and if so how can it be improved to give these people an equal chance?

I don’t feel like the homework assignments did enough to encourage these deeper insights because most the questions were too broad. So my suggestion would be to perhaps raise some more questions which you feel are important in the homework assignments, while still giving students the freedom to comment on whichever aspects of it they want. This way, the students would be guided into debating the more important issues and consequences, and the discussions would be longer and more interesting.

Morgan Brewer

Overall I thought the readings were very pertinent to the course, but the flow of topics was a bit odd. Sections of the reading did go well together and the connection was clear, but this was only in segments. For next semester I would recommend reevaluating the reading list to make it shorter and more coherent. Make it clear how each reading relates to the next. This will obviously no be possible just via the order of the readings so discussion in lecture will also play an important part. I understand that there are a lot of thinkers to include as this is one of the foundation classes of the PEIS major, but reducing the reading list to the most important readings would give students more time to focus on and understand each reading more. I felt as thought I was just trying to power through the readings to just get them done. I remember that at the beginning of the semester DeLong pointed out that an important skill in school and in life was being able to skim large amounts of reading and pick up the important details, but this skill will come in time and it seems more important for the class to embrace the readings in a way that will let them retain the main points for years to come.

Nicholas DeGroot

This being my first semester at Cal, I have found PEIS 101 to be one of the most challenging and at the same time gratifying experiences I had. I feel like the intellectual boot camp has made me faster and leaner and has tuned my ability to identify critical elements and articulate foundational arguments. The realm of political economy is the nexus of power and industry that provides the frame work for the other disciplines to accomplish their tasks. The political economic ideology and agenda of the ruling elements shape the course of the lives of individual citizens. It is for this reason that Professor Delong has so well articulated that PEIS 101 should be a required course for any students that intend to work in the public sphere. Times are changing and the old ideologies need to be refreshed.

I would be very interested in reading the compilation of Al Jazera reports, if one does come into existence. I thought Stern was a bit too establishment oriented, but she was more balanced than others may be.

Kirsten did an excelent job reaching out from her environmental back ground and firmly grasping the course material. She was an excelent leader and I think the discussion sections improved as she integrated more group processes into the planning.

Owrell was a must. "Shooting an Elephant" puts the reader in the shoes of an imperialist and makes room for the internal discontent. I thought "The Road to Wigan Pier" was a stark warning for society to guard against blight and neglect.

Lastly, the professor is a genius. His great since of history going back to the emperors of China and the Spanish Empire have given the course unique and invaluable context.

Thank you all for the experience. Hope to see you around next semester.

Alex Zaman

I really enjoyed taking PEIS 101 this semester and found the course material to be very interesting. Having said that, I think there are several improvements that should be made to the course and its structure, many of which my classmates have already highlighted. I felt the web assignments helped me stay on track with the readings and provided a forum where we could all learn from each other. However I wish we could have received more feedback on the postings in order to track the validity of our reasoning and our progress. Also, some weeks required more reading than others, and I think it would have helped to spread out the web assignments according to the amount of required reading (similar to how Professor’s Econ 113 web postings are sequenced). A more broad criticism I have is the unclear direction of the course. I realize that we were guinea pigs for this course, but I feel like the expectations were not properly laid out. This goes for paper topics as well as the general approach to take toward the readings. Since the course lacked an general outline or theme, per se, I think it was difficult to independently conceptualize each thinker in comparison with the rest of the thinkers. I also had hoped the course would be a little more balanced in terms of regions covered, similar to the version taught by Professor Zahidi. All in all, I think Professor DeLong and the GSIs did a very good job of organizing the course with such little time to prepare. I learned a great deal from a wide variety of authors and concepts, and enjoyed Professor DeLong’s unique lecturing style. I highly recommend taking PEIS 100 beforehand, only because it provides solid background information about key thinkers, ideas, trends, and movements- all of which directly or indirectly relate to each concept addressed in PEIS 101.

Rowena Tam

I thought that this class was extremely insightful into what the major entails. I have not taken a peis course before and was thinking of declaring the major. Unfortunately, I had heard about this class under the previous instructor. I am not very keen on the idea of history and apparently that is the main crux of the major. So, that being said, I did not enjoy the class in the way that I thought I was going to. It was an interesting experience, but since I did not take the peis 100, it was a lot more to intake. I think that in the future, peis 100 should be a pre-requisite to peis 101. And of course, I definitely agree with the previous posters, there should be some kind of course guideline to follow. I think that a course reader would be extremely helpful in providing some structure. And the discussions online were actually a brilliant idea. It was good to see what others were thinking and be able to argue against, or with, them. Unfortunately, the load of reading made it sometimes difficult to actually comprehend it all (because some readings were definitely left out due to time constraints) But all in all, the readings were very invigorating and reminded me that there is a social aspect in economics.

John Keh

One thing I feel that can be improved for next year is a deeper integration of the lecture with the philosophers that we are currently studying. I think it would also help if you had more supplemental material of these philosophers for optional reading. Cutting out some of the very "hard-to-read" readings would also be helpful. Creating a comprehensive reader would have also been more convenient in my mind too. I disliked having to read off of a computer screen all day, especially for some of the longer readings. Having the class based around the political economic philosophers instead of a timeline that tracks the philosophers settings would have been beneficial in that it would create more of a focus for the class.

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