Silly Bus



Since this is a course in behavioral econ, I will begin with a bit of my own behavior.  As you can tell by the page title, I like word play.  It's one of the ways I make things fun for myself.  If you can work a bit of word play into your own creations for the course, that is to your advantage.  But do it for the fun.  Making me (or another reader of your work) groan with a pun of your own invention should be its own reward.

Much of this course will be experimental - in mode of delivery as well as in topic coverage.  Regarding the former, I have a penchant for teaching in a seminar format and to have as much dialog with students and between students as possible.  The classroom has a capacity of 68 students - not the size where seminars are usually taught.  In my previous teaching effort, I used student blogs to buttress the class and student writing became an important component of the course.  We'll try a few things in that dimension here.  More of that below.

Regarding content, there isn't a prescribed path of study, so we are going to choose pieces to read and multimedia items that I think are interesting and if you'd like to volunteer some content we might cover, that would be fine too.  You'll notice that one of our Tabs is entitled Delicious, which is to a set of social bookmarks at  I'm trying to bookmark every possible reference I come across.  Whether we get to it all remains to be seen.  I know from prior experience that in teaching a new course there is a tendency to jam in too much content.  That doesn't mean I won't make the same mistake twice. It does mean, however, that we'll try to embed some recalibration mechanisms so the class as a whole can determine the appropriate pace and how much to cover.  Note, however, that I believe in "no pain, no gain."  If you're looking for a lightweight class, you should look elsewhere.

Topics and Course Trajectory

We'll begin with a few examples of anomalies and enigmas: tipping, our penchant for rationalizing random phenomena, procrastination, taller people getting paid more and others.  Then we'll consider explanations for departures from rationality: fairness, bounded rationality in the face of complexity, biological/psychological/evolutionary considers, and others here as well.  We'll consider what behavioral economics helps us understand, specifically by focusing on incentives in labor markets and financial markets.  But we will also consider a defense of rational economic man, homo economicus. Then we will get into normative economics, using behavioral principles to consider designing effective economic environments.  For this we will read the book, Nudge.  Because the authors base their approach on what may seem a strange, indeed oxymoronic, underlying philosophy - libertarian paternalism - we will consider alternative philosophies, both straight paternalism without apology and also laissez-faire.  During this part of the course we'll consider the University as an economic environment to help get students to reflect on these arguments based on their own considerable experience.

Readings and Multimedia Viewings

There is no textbook for the course.  The goal is that most of the readings will be journal articles or other short pieces available online, to provide multiple perspectives and a variety of approaches.  (See the info about VPN at the Technology Tips tab.)  The one book you need is Nudge, which should be at the bookstore or available online for purchase.  It is inexpensive.  Please do buy your own copy.


Each student will be assigned to a team.  Most teams will have four members.  If total enrollment for the class is not divisible by 4, a few teams may have a different number of members.  All course work that is done for credit will be done in a team context.  Students may not be used to this approach and expect at least some component of individual work to be evaluated and may perceive a total team approach as unfair.  Let me give some reasons for why we are going this route.

Your learning - you learn this stuff by doing the readings, by discussing and arguing about that, and then by reflecting on the readings and the discussion.  Think of this as a repeated cycle rather than as linear thing, where the ideas of one reading flow into the next.  For the discussion piece you need rather intense participation to make that worthwhile.  In a small class perhaps that can happen in ensemble discussion.  In a larger class, that probably can't happen in ensemble mode.  So the teams are there in large part to ensure you have the opportunity for intensive participation.  And the work the teams will do is aimed at promoting those conversations.

My reactions to your work - I want to give regular and intensive written feedback to the work you craft.  Having the work produced in teams will help to make the volume of work sufficiently streamlined that I can deliver on this commitment.

Experiential Learning - The team structure can be seen as a type of nudge.  Somewhere in the semester the class as a whole will reflect on the structure and whether it met its design goals or not.

During each class session some class time (about 20 minutes or so) will be allocated so teams can meet.  If you do that in the classroom, you'll probably have to stand up to be able to talk with your teammates.  So you will be free to find some other meeting space as an alternative.  Your team also should find a regular time outside of scheduled class meetings. This will be especially necessary for doing the project work (see below) but may also be necessary for preparing for the online writing that must be done  in advance of each class session.

During the in class time allocated for team meetings, I may have scheduled meetings with one or two teams.  If so, that takes a priority.  If not, I'll be available for impromptu conversation with teams on a first come first served basis.

Student teams sometimes struggle because a team member appears to be sloughing off.  Please note the following:
  1. If a team member gets sick or has an excused university absence it's expected that the other team members will pick up for him and that the workload will balance out later.  If you know you will have a university excused absence, please alert me so your team isn't scheduled to lead a class discussion at that time.
  2. Negotiating through issues regarding team participation is part of the learning.  It is my hope that if issues arise early those issues can be resolved and the team can function fully thereafter.  
  3. At the end of the term each team member will be able to vote on other member's contribution to the team.  If there is consensus that a member has not contributed, then that member will not receive full credit for the team work.  
  4. I am available as a last resort, but only as a last resort. 

Each team will create a blog for their written work.  The blog will be for postings, comments on those, and to display project work.  For a class session on Monday (starting with the second Monday the class actually meets - two weeks after Martin Luther King Jr. Day) one team member will make a post of 500 - 1000 words on the readings to be discussed at that class session and related ideas.  (There is a blogging tag with posts on how to do this and with a rubric on how this writing will be evaluated.)  This initial post is due the Friday before at 10 PM.  (The deadline was chosen deliberately to encourage students to complete the work prior to the deadline.  I am not trying to crimp your social life.)  Following that each other team member will post a comment on that post, which is meant to extend the discussion in a meaningful way.  Comments should be a good solid paragraph in length (150 words or so) or longer.  I will also be writing a comment.  The comments are due Sunday at 10 PM.  Again, this is for a Monday class.

For a Wednesday class (starting with the second Wednesday the class actually meets) the initial post is due the prior Monday at 10 PM while comments are due Tuesday at 10 PM.  Again, one team member should make the initial post while the other team members make follow up comments.

It turns out that with writing a necessary early phase is pre-writing, which is thinking done prior to the act of composition.  So the big picture idea of what we're trying to accomplish here is this.  You do some reading--- early in the process.  Immediately after you start thinking about it on your own.  This is the beginning of the pre-writing.  Then you have a team meeting to discuss the ideas and make sure who will write the post and then what the other team members will write in the comments.  You should have a general discussion of the content of that writing, so that the blogging and the comments are the deliverables that the team aims to produce at the team meetings.  Then we'll have ensemble discussion in class to tie together what the various teams have come up with and perhaps to bring in related ideas that weren't yet raised.  The hope is that the work done before class makes the class sessions informative and engaging.

Once we get into the swing of things, I hope you will take the opportunity to read the blogs of other teams and make comments there, though such comments are not for course credit.  The goal is to build a sense of community within the class as a whole.  I believe you'll find the course much more enjoyable if we can firmly establish such a sense of community.

Please proofread your work before posting it for typos, grammatical mistakes, and logical errors in thinking.  Others who read your stuff (including me) deserve to be treated with respect.  Proofreading is a way to show that. 


Each team will be assigned a chapter from Nudge for their team project.  There will be three components of this project:
  • Make an online presentation for the rest of the class to be viewed in advance of the class session where the chapter is discussed.  Other student teams will use the online presentation in conjunction with the readings to make their blog posts and comments.
  • Lead an in-class discussion of the chapter for about a half hour or so.  
  • Write a follow-up paper of between 3000 and 4000 words that incorporates ideas from the class discussion, related readings that that project team does, and the original material in the chapter.
There will be further postings on the projects, with how to instructions and suggestions in the tag labelled Class Projects.  


There are no exams.  Blog postings and comments are for 60% of the overall grade.  My expectation with these is the initial ones may be a bit awkward and uncomfortable, but that as you find your stride they will be more thoughtful and expressive.  For that reason I won't grade an individual set with post and comments, but rather grade a collection and do that once around the middle of the term and again at the end of the semester.  After completing the second or third set of postings and comments we will have an in class discussion on how this work should be evaluated for course credit.

The project is for 40% of the overall grade with 10% for the online presentation, 10% for the in class discussion, and 20% for the paper.  Again, however, I'm apt to look at this holistically rather than consider it component by component, because there is dependency across the components.

The grading is clearly subjective here.  The schema that informs this subjective view is as follows:
A = All work is completed in a timely fashion and typically the work done is of high quality.
B = All work is completed in a timely fashion and typically the work done is of adequate quality.
C = Most of the work is completed in a timely fashion.
D = I don't use this grade for an upper level course.
F =  Much of the work is late, undone, or inadequate.


In addition to this class blog, there is also a class Moodle site on the College of LAS Moodle Server. We will use this site certainly for one purpose and then possibly for a second purpose.  Taking those in reverse order, each team must make a choice of whether to have the team blog publicly available on the open Internet or housed inside Moodle.  I have some preference for the open Internet alternative because I believe it will encourage better work from your team, the work will be somewhat more accessible to the rest of the class and certainly more accessible to anyone outside the course for showcasing purposes, and because when everyone does it turning the class into a community is more likely.  That said, students do have privacy rights which need to be respected.  So if a team opts to have their blog in Moodle that is an okay alternative and they are free to do that without any prejudice or stigma.  Do note that in making this choice each student has been assigned an alias to kept their identity hidden if the blog is publicly available.  Use of the alias is a way where I hope we can get the best of both alternatives.

Each team will also have a private blog in Moodle which I will use to provide written communication about team performance (grades plus some discussion of that).  Team members can also communicate back to me and to their teammates in this private blog.

Academic Integrity

Here is the Library's site on academic integrity and plagiarism.  If you rely on an information resource in your own writing and if that resource is online then please link to it.  That's the simplest way and allows the reader to readily track down the reference.

I want to expand on the issue by first encouraging you to read this column by the psychologist Peter Gray that school is a breeding ground for cheating.  I'm not sure that has always been the case but it seems to me true today.  What can be done about school to nudge it toward encouraging students to be honest and forthright?  Sometime during the semester I'd like to make that a class discussion topic.  Let's use the course theme to promote academic integrity.  Here is a different read on the matter, one that is more uplifting, considering academic integrity as leadership, which requires your own individual thinking at a deep enough level to make sense of things.

Professor Arvan