Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Fly Away, Little One. Be Free!

It's been a good couple of days:
  • Yesterday, we just got a very good sized check from the IRS (we'd let some things slide when the Unknown Son was sick, and finally got things straightened out a few months ago.
  • about a half-hour ago, I submitted a paper to a journal (not a top-tier one, but a decent one). It's been about 4 years since we started it. So now, it's off my desk.
  • I just got an email that my new 43-inch flat-panel TV is available for pickup from Best Buy.
All in all, a nice way to close out the year. Now I just have to get the TV set up in time to watch the Lesnar/Overeem MMA fight on Friday.

Friday, 23 December 2011

The Semester Goes Out Not With a Bang, But With a Whimper

I was just commenting to the Unknown Wife how this semester was ending going so well compared to previous ones - my student managed investment fund presentation was done a day earlier than usual, my principles class was ahead of schedule, and my exams were at the beginning of exam period rather than near the end.

I should have known - never say things like that. Even in jest.

It angers Academia - the patron goddess of all professors (also known as "she who makes professors' work go pear-shaped at the worst possible time")

So, what happens? I was cutting and pasting items from the grades spreadsheet for my principles class (it has four components, all on separate tabs of the worksheet). Somehow, I not only deleted the grades for all three exams, I copied the sheet to a file name that overwrote the backup (I always save the spreadsheet to a new file name after each update). After searching for over an hour, I finally found an email backup copy I'd made that had everything but the final exam grades.

The morals of the story:
  1. Make multiple backups of your grading spreadsheet (and anything else of critical importance) every time you change it.
  2. Never, ever say "things are going well this semester". It angers Academia (and she is a vindictive "rhymes with witch").
On a more pleasant note, a couple of bright spots this week:
  1. looks like I'll have a paper submitted within a couple of days. It won't get looked at by the journal editor for a couple of weeks due to the holiday, but it'll be off my desk. Since (as my coauthor says) "if we don't submit this one soon, we'd better start saving for its college education", that's a good feeling.
  2. A coauthor informed me that she had a revise and resubmit that requires her to do some tests that she could do herself, but would rather outsource. Since I can easily do it with a week's work or so, she asked me to be a coauthor. So, for a bit of work, it looks like I will likely have another hit.
  3. We've been making do at the Unknown Household with a seven-year old TV (an old cathode-ray model). We just got our new TV stand (a very nice corner model) and will shortly be getting a new 46 inch flat panel model. Ah, the Kingdom of Thingdom has a new subject.
In any event, here's wishing a Merry Christmas (or whatever else you choose to celebrate this time of year) to all my readers (all three of them).

It's finally feeling like Christmas in the Unknown Household - we've got Christmas songs playing on the radio, Winnie the Pooh (the Unknown Son's (a.k.a. Knucklehead's) recent fascination) on TV, and I'm in the middle of making up a quadruple batch of pumpkin soup on the stove A double batch will be for our neighborhood party tonight and another is for the big family get-together at our place on Christmas Day. So the place sounds and smells like Christmas.

mythe Goddess made me save my grade spreadsheet to the wrong name

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Congresscritters Aren't Like The Rest Of Us

This last few weeks, we've heard a lot about research conducted by Ziobrowski et. al. (see here and here) on the possibility of informed trading by Senators and Congressmen. Based on abnormal returns earned on their portfolios, it appears that they do use their "inside information" in ways that would be illegal for those not in government service. In case you haven't seen it, here's the 60 Minutes story that brought Ziobrowski's research into the public eye:

Now here's another fun fact - Congresscritters not only get to profit from material nonpublic information, they also get to reveal it to select parties too. It seems like a number of hedge funds regularly meet with members of congress to get fast track access to this information. Here's a video from the Wall Street Journal for your viewing pleasure.

And here I though our elected officials were pure of heart and above approach (sorry - I think I shouldn't have changed my meds without doctor's orders).

My Favorite Quotes About Teaching – Number Three

As my friends will tell you (or my wife, for that matter), I’m not a terribly modest person. It is a fault of which I am aware. So, I am a bit embarrassed by my third favorite quotation about teaching because it comes from, well, me. Yes, I am quoting myself. But, in truth, it is a quote that I like. And, it is a quote that I genuinely believe can help make any person a better classroom teacher.

I was reminded of this yesterday in two emails that I received from former students. This past semester, I worked with 65 students and 11 of them earned the grade of A. As I mentioned in a recent blog entry, I wrote each of those 11 to pass along my congratulations and to ask them to write a short essay on how they earned that A, an essay that I will pass along as guidance to my class in the spring.

Yesterday, two of those students separately mentioned my tendency in class to throw out random questions and then direct them to “figure it out.” (They both said something like “when Professor Hoyle tells you to ‘figure it out’ you really do need to figure out how to figure it out.”)

I think you can make any class better by simply uttering those three words (“figure it out”) as many times as possible during class. In fact, if you don’t need to provide that instruction at least once every day, I think you are missing a wonderful opportunity to engage the students. After all, what are critical thinking skills but the ability to take a quantity of information and then use it to figure something else out? And, a student's critical thinking skills are made sharper and sharper as you ask students to figure out more complex issues.

I believe every class should have numerous times where the “teacher” throws out seemingly random bits of data and asks the students to assimilate that information in some logical form to figure out some other result or consequence. That is true, I feel, whether you are teaching biology or religion or Shakespeare or, like me, accounting.

--Here’s what we are facing. What should we do? Figure it out.
--Here’s what just happened. Why did it happen? Figure it out.
--This work is considered one of the most important in history. Why is that the case? Figure it out.

What I like about “figure it out” is that it clearly sends a signal to the students that you are not interested in having them regurgitate memorized lines. You really are interested in making use of what has previously been covered.

Nothing does that better than turning to a student and saying “you don’t need me to tell you the answer. You’ve already got the information you need to come to a logical conclusion. Figure it out.”

And, now, to reiterate, here are the first three of my favorite quotes about teaching:

“The process of learning is asking sharper and sharper questions."
“The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking.”
“Figure it out.”

Monday, 19 December 2011

Stuck In Grading

Ah, all classes are done, and my finals have been taken. Unfortunately, I had a rather large group in my principles class, and they had a long final - 73 students and a final with 25 multiple choice questions(concepts and definitions) and 21 problems. I'm currently on problem 11, so I still have about 730 "student-problems) to grade (about 5-6 hours of work).

Then the grumbling by the students starts. I've already had one email me to complain that "my tests didn't assess the students' learning properly" - within a day of the exam.

But even with all that, this still beats any other job I can imagine.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

My Favorite Quotes About Teaching – Number Two

In 1980, I started writing my Advanced Accounting textbook. I was so young and innocent that I really didn’t understand that writing a textbook by myself of that size and complexity was almost impossible. However, after 3-4 years of intense writing (I remember one Christmas day when I sat typing on my little blue portable typewriter trying desperately to finish the project before it was out of date), I managed to complete the book. Several editions later, I added two wonderful co-authors and the book is now going into its 11th edition as the market leader.

When I finished the first edition of this textbook, I wanted to add a quote at the beginning to put forth my feeling about textbooks and education in general. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find a quote that I liked. I was about ready to give up on the quest. One day I went to get my hair cut and was talking to the young woman who was cutting my hair. I told her about my search for the perfect quote and she casually responded “I have a quotation calendar on my table – why don’t you see what the quote is for today?”

I glanced over and was just stunned to read a sentence from the writer Christopher Morley:

“The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking.”

That was exactly how I felt about the textbook that I had just written and that was how I felt about education as a whole. I copied the quote down and it has appeared at the beginning of every edition of Advanced Accounting over the past 28 years.

I am a big believer that colleges and other schools have a bad obsession with teaching “stuff.” In class, we just pour out facts and figures and the poor student can’t write fast enough to get it all down. We like to teach “stuff” because it is easy to test and easy to grade. There are never any arguments; students either know the stuff or they don’t. Consequently, we graduate students with heads crammed full of stuff who cannot always do the thinking necessary to make use of that stuff. I think the world suffers a bit as a result (maybe more than a bit).

I’m in my 41st year as a college teacher and, year by year, I get less interested in teaching stuff. However, I get more interested (my students might say obsessed) with trying to get them to do their own thinking. They are bright folks – if they learn to think clearly and logically, they can figure the stuff out for themselves. That's exactly what I want for them.

How do you get away from teaching “stuff?” How do you encourage students to do their own thinking? Well, you probably already know my answer: Ask them questions and keep at them until they come up with reasonable answers.

--What is going on in this situation?
--How did we get into this mess?
--What are our alternatives?
--Which option would you pick?
--What are the potential benefits and problems?
--What information do you have available and what use can you make of it?
--What have we done before that might be helpful here?

The questions can go on forever and (trust me) they can make your students very frustrated. But that just means they have hit a wall that they need to break through if they are ever going to think for themselves. I have a saying that drives my students crazy when I respond to their queries: “I’m paid enough to ask questions; I’m not paid enough to provide any answers. That’s your problem.”

And, over the years, my students have come back over and over and said "I'm so glad you taught us in that intense questioning style because it has helped me so much in life after school."

Go through your class materials day by day and be brutally honest – how much of it is just teaching “stuff?” Is that what you really want to do? Is that really what your students need from their classes?

If I can paraphrase Christopher Morley, I can’t think of a better education quote than: The real purpose of my class is to trap the student’s mind into doing its own thinking.

Monday, 12 December 2011

A Real Loss

The world of education lost a truly wonderful teacher this past week. I had only known Tom Hindelang for a year or so but I cannot remember meeting another person who so loved teaching. He truly understood the power and importance of education and my life is better for having had the opportunity just to be around his enormous enthusiasm. You could not talk with Tom for long without getting excited yourself and wanting to be a better teacher.

This article gives you a sense of this man and his love for students. He was truly a wonderful human being.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Winding Down The Semester at Unknown University

It's Saturday afternoon, and I'm in my office writing final exams while the rest of the Unknown Family is one state away at a nephew's birthday part.

So that means it must be the end of the semester.

I have one day of classes left and two exams to give - one in my principles class and one for my student-managed investment fund class. and both exams are well on the way to being written. So, I'm in better shape than I have been at the end of the semester than in a while (I'm usually doing the mad scramble for the finish line). I figure another day's work on the exams and a couple of days grading, and I'm done until the next crop comes in.

It's been a good semester. My principles class went better than it's gone in a long time. I always try to give my students their money's worth, and push them significantly harder than in the other sections of the class. In prior semesters, they'd griped about this to the Powers That Be.

This semester seemed different. Part of this was that I have a much better attitude about life than I had previously. Most people who know me would characterize me as enthusiastic (sometimes to a fault) and optimistic. While the Unknown Son was in the final stages of his illness, I was very stressed (ya think?). When I'm stressed, I get more than a bit sarcastic, and that never plays well with students (particularly when you're really pushing them).

This semester, I was unabashedly positive and relaxed in the class. I also spent much more time early on framing their expectations. So, there was very little griping to the folks in the Dean's office. Finally, I made a concerted effort to make sure the focii of the class were working problems (and making THEM work problems) in class until they couldn't take it any more, and forcing them to participate. The students seem to have gotten the message that an easier road in class is often not the the best option.

Unfortunately, we don't do a common final exam for the principles class at Unknown University. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that my students have a better grasp of the material than in some of the other sections, but I'm always leery of making statements like this because of biases in my own perceptions (confirmation bias, hubris, and so on). I'd like to see if hard data shows that they know more, or if I'm just convincing myself. Maybe next time I can convince them to go the common exam road.

My student-managed fund class also did better than I expected. I always fear the worst as they're getting read for their end-of-semester presentation to the Alumni. This semester, we made the presentation it at the offices of a major investment-management company. The students did well, so it should help with placement of our grads at this firm in the future. I brought a couple of juniors who will be in the class next semester along to the presentation, and one of them might have made a connection there (with an Unknown University alum who already works at the firm). So, he might have made a major step towards scoring an internship for this summer.

In any event, I've had enough office time for a Saturday. So it's time to head out for some Christmas shopping and then settle in for the big UFC fight tonight. Since the Unknown Family is out of town, I get to do the bachelor thing.

Occupy Wall Street: Campus Version

Up until recently, Occupy Wall Street was a movement actually contained to the firms against which it protested. They occupied the literal Wall Street as well as other financial buildings scattered across New York City. However, as the movement as grown, it has taken on an interesting form. It has spread to college campuses across the nation, first beginning as a protest against tuition hikes and student debt, and finally spilling into the conference rooms where firms were holding their information sessions. Those of who study finance and economics at the Stern School of Business, along with our fellow peers in CAS who have similar aspirations, are most likely already entrenched in the recruitment process. Most firms who recruit at NYU have held their fall information sessions and applications will be soon be due. However, as we ready ourselves for the upcoming interviews and networking sessions, many other campuses are fighting this very process.

Most recently, Princeton University students joined the ranks of fellow Ivy-League Yale students in directly protesting against firms who arrive for on-campus recruitment. In mid-November, a group of 25 undergraduate Yale students protested outside the Morgan Stanley information session. They fervently waved their signs and loudly chanted slogans against the large portion of Yale graduate who choose to enter the field of finance and/or consulting. The Occupy Princeton movement, however, took it to a whole new level. Rather than protest from the outside, student protesters entered presentations held by JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs under the pretense of actually being interested in the firms. The ruse even went for longer as the students networked with recruiters and signed the obligatory sheets that signified their attendance at the event. This, however, changed as the students finally seated to hear the introduction and key note speakers. Using the Occupy movement’s signature method, the “mic check” call-and-response strategy, a student rose amongst the ranks at the JP Morgan session to reprimand the firm’s actions. After he said, “your predatory lending practices helped crash our economy,” his fellow protestors would repeat the line. This continued for the whole speech, leaving the recruiters in an awkward situation. A similar enactment was performed at the Goldman Sachs information session. This time, the student protester also added a note for her fellow students, emphasizing that one of Princeton’s key ideals was “in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.”

Based on the Yale and Princeton incidences, it is clear that not only do the student movements have an issue with the firms themselves, they have an issue with their fellow peers following the ranks into finance. They believe that they are too intelligent to waste their talents on Wall Street and that their education could be of better use in another, perhaps less well-paying, field. This sentiment against finance has in fact affected students beyond the Ivy League as both the appeal and the stability of a career in finance has decreased. However, at the end of the day, it is unfair to classify the whole of finance as a futile career path. Even more unwarranted is the audacity of one student to claim that he/she knows what is best for a fellow peer. Therefore, although certain banks have curtailed on-campus recruitment for financial purposes, let us hope that the occupy student movements do not deter on-campus recruitment for those students still interested in finance.

By Meha Patel

Watch videos of the Princeton University information sessions at:

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Right of First Refusal

The Right of First Refusal

The number of Yahoo bidders continues to grow every day, but the number of options Yahoo can realistically choose from has become limited. The most important case has come with Alibaba, the Chinese internet-based series of businesses. Yahoo faces the challenge of maintaining its 43% stake in the Internet giant while still being acquired- if it accepts any bid, it may lose the stake entirely. The multi-billion dollar stake is considered highly valuable, especially for Yahoo, as it provides a gateway into China’s growing Internet market.

When Yahoo bought its stake in Alibaba, there was an agreed contract with the “right of first refusal” attached. Alibaba, protecting itself, had injected the clause in order to guarantee it controlled its own shares if Yahoo decided to sell them or the company was bought over entirely. Specifically, the right of first refusal has permitted Alibaba to repurchase the shares should Yahoo “transfer” them to another party. With an acquisition of Yahoo, the stockholder’s agreement states Alibaba can buy the stake no matter the offers Yahoo may receive for it.

The right of first refusal is specifically created for shareholder’s to have control over the company. It is actually Alibaba’s shareholders who will exercise this right, and will likely remain unchallenged. A bidder for the stake would have to willingly pay an extremely high price for Alibaba shareholders not to exercise their right of refusal. There is a drawback for these shareholders, however- they may only exercise their right if a third party steps forward first with an offer.

If Alibaba does decide to step in and exercise its right of first refusal, there is no doubt Yahoo’s bids will be put on the back-burner. Alibaba is waiting for the chance to purchase the minority stake, and may even force a third party bidder into the sale. In truth, Alibaba has more control over Yahoo’s future than Yahoo does itself.

~Zeena Advani