Full Disclosure Course Review: Microeconomics (6400)

Disclaimer: The views in this article are purely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Morningside Post.

On the first day of class, Professor Gerratana explains why the class will not be like others, at least in terms of timing: the class is scheduled for 1h 50m, which is 20 minutes more than a “standard” 1h 30m course. A shorter, standard class would not be able to contain all the energy of the professor, nor even be doable considering his explanation style.

Although one student I talked to said he thought Gerratana was a great "explain-er"; personally, the classes wore on for me since he would use 10-15 minutes to explain a concept that was one paragraph in the notes (i.e. about 1 min to read). If you understand the paragraph, those 15 minutes plod along quite slowly, despite his high-energy teaching style that all students greatly appreciate. Regardless, for whatever reason, the attendance on non-quiz days (more on the quizzes later) would drop after the first few weeks, and faces I did not see for months will appear again for the final. This is ill-advised since there are “Clicker Questions” to assess your understanding of a recently introduced concept and, indirectly, whether you show up for class.

Don't forget your clicker for the clicker questions!

Don't forget your clicker for the clicker questions!

The clickers are signed out to everyone at the beginning of the semester and you return them at the end. You are expected to bring them to every class so you can participate in the PPT  pop quizzes. Results of the class are gathered in real-time so the professor can see if people understand a concept (everyone gets it right) or if he needs to repeat something (many people get it wrong). Be careful! Professor Gerratana throws in a lot of curve-balls, causing at least one student to protest in class last year. These pop quizzes / attendance are worth about 5% of your grade, but, regardless, many students still do not show up for class.

Some students just take the ~5% hit to their final grade, others seemingly have devised a more unscrupulous method: have their friend “sit in” for them (read: one person brings his/her clicker and their five friends' clickers to take the quizzes for all their friends). I have no proof of this, but it is really suspicious when someone, sitting in the back of the class, has 5 clickers on their desk…

There are 9 15-minute quizzes throughout the semester, which basically replace the mid-term. The main thing that stands out is the wild fluctuations in difficulty of the quizzes from week to week: the first few weeks they were extremely easy and then, BOOM! total head-scratcher. At the end of that exam I was looking around the room for other distraught faces to get a sense of solidarity and nurture my wounds. Throughout the rest of the semester, the difficulty on the quizzes fluctuated heavily as, I suspect, the Professor was looking for a good difficulty balance. Hard to say what this semester will bring.

In terms of material covered, whereas Macroeconomics had some directly applicable topics which could be useful in interviews or while reading the news (what happened to banks during the housing crisis is a prime example), the vast majority of topics discussed in Microeconomics have so many limiting assumptions that you are really studying high-level theory. Some students (not just me) have trouble seeing how they might apply this to the real world, although there is almost certainly a good place for higher-level Microeconomics when working in policy analysis. The question of "why do we need to know this?" crept into my mind more than once. 

You work in groups for homework assignments and, at the beginning, our group did it “properly” (i.e. everyone tries to do the whole thing on their own and then meet to discuss), but by the end our group at least was rotating who did the HW for that week. We stopped even meeting to discuss unless there was a big problem. Doing the homework "properly" takes a lot of discipline because the answers are posted online at the same time as the questions! Of course, you are only hurting yourself if you “cheat” by looking at the answers first, but you only pay for it during the only test of the whole semester: the Final.

The final for Fall 2017 I would say was pretty tough, but fair (how would a test be unfair if you are allowed a "reminder sheet"). There are several questions, each of which can cover any one of the 9 topics discussed. Of course, I went in there feeling confident about 8/9 topics and one question was, of course, about the one topic I did not review closely enough.