Lecture Highlights Novel Approach to Learning

Tania Chatila
El Vaquero Staff Writer

This year’s Distinguished Faculty Award winner Dr. Mark Maier, professor of economics, gave a presentation billed as “Are You Smarter than a Monkey?” Oct. 18 at Krieder Hall in which he combined a theory of stock market investing and classroom research to emphasize the importance of interactive classroom learning.

Last year’s award winner Steve Taylor, professor of English, introduced Maier to the audience with words of praise. “He’s published enough articles to break the axle on a book mobile,” said Taylor. “To some of us [Maier] is the closest we have to a teaching mentor to the entire faculty. He is a true scholar. He is not one who teaches for his own glory, but designs teaching for student growth.”

That is exactly the position Maier took in presenting his lecture to about 60 audience members. Opening his presentation with a sense of humor, Maier started his lecture with a clip from a light-hearted episode of “Dateline NBC” that tested the skills of three stock market investors: stock market expert Frank Curzio, a classroom of seventh-graders, and Casey the chimpanzee. In the contest all three contestants chose five stocks in which to invest their money.

After showing the beginning of the video, he posed the question: “Who do you think will win?” Using an active learning technique, Maier then asked each audience member to find a partner with the same answer, then one with a different answer. Everyone was then given one minute to support his or her answers.

“One intuition I’ve always had is that one learns by articulation,” said Maier. “We learn by speaking our ideas.”

Maier researched this thesis by tape recording conversations of his students while they worked in small groups.

Listening to the tapes, Maier realized that often men did more of the talking, while women, acting as facilitators, guided the conversations by asking questions.

“The thing that leaps out the most is men dominating the conversation and women playing the secondary role,” said Maier. He was quick to point out, however, that at that point it is the role of the teacher to intervene in order to allow everyone equal amount of time to talk and eliminate domination by one person. Maier also emphasized the importance of students learning how to be good listeners.

“Students can regurgitate information really well, but deeper learning takes a little more work,” he said. It is through this technique of articulation and active learning that Maier has found success for his students.

Maier went on to present a quick lesson in economics. In the world currency market, he said, the theory of arbitrage dictates that currencies will reach a steady trading value across countries. That is, if American currency is valued at $1 per 100 Japanese yen in London, it will very quickly be adjusted to the same level in other countries, because the traders will balance each other. The same theory holds true for stocks. Stocks may drop suddenly, and traders who are quickest to act may make money buying low, but prices very quickly stabilize, making speculation difficult.
With this information, Maier questioned the audience once more on their predictions of the winner of the “Dateline” stock market game.

He then showed the rest of the “Dateline” segment. Most in the audience were surprised that the monkey beat out both Curzio, the investment expert, and the group of seventh graders in picking winning stocks.

Students and faculty alike seemed to particularly like the interactive lecture Maier presented. “I thought it was excellent,” said Richard Kamei, instructor of sociology. “It really helped me think about my role as an instructor. I’m going to reflect on this and take it back to my classroom.”
“It was a really good learning experience,” said sophomore Carmen Abramhian. “It was fun learning. I would like to see something like this in my classes.”