Economics Professor Scott Carrell provides perspective on teaching online, while maintaining a sense of humor

Economics Professor Scott Carrell provides perspective on teaching online, while maintaining a sense of humor

Photo Credits: Courtesy. Scott E. Carrell, Professor of Economics, the Co-Faculty Director of the California Education Laboratory and the Faculty Athletics Representative at the University of California, Davis.

Carrell discusses readjusting his teaching style

Professor of economics Scott Carrell has a keen sense of humor and a spirited demeanor while teaching, according to his students. Carrell said although transitioning to online learning has negative aspects, such as not being able to see his students’ faces, it’s mostly akin to the real thing. 

“It’s really interesting,” Carrell said. “It feels to me like 80% of a live lecture because I am getting that feedback in real time. A disadvantage is that I don’t see the students’ faces, so I feel like I’m not getting to know any of the students. With 400 students in a lecture hall, you don’t tend to get to know the students, but you do recognize the faces.”

 When Carrell first began as a professor in the Air Force Academy, he taught classes of only 15 to 20 students and would learn every student’s name. When he moved on to teaching at Dartmouth College, there were 40 to 50 students in his class, and he still eventually managed to learn every name. Now, teaching lectures of 400 or more students at UC Davis, he only gets to know the students who attend office hours, and said, now, there’s an added difficulty to establishing relationships when office hours are held on Zoom. 

“I get to know students who come to office hours, when I had regular office hours, […] pretty well — but that’s obviously a little tougher on Zoom,” Carrell said. “And they don’t show their face on office hours most of the time either. There is this culture among students not to show their video feed. Even in my graduate course — I have 15, 16 students in my graduate course — and only one or two have their video feed going.”

Although face-to-face interactions between students and professors might be lacking, Carrell said he continues to add the same humor and anecdotes to his lectures as before, whether or not there’s an audible response on his end.

“I still try to have a little bit of sense of humor,” Carrell said. “The problem is, you don’t know if people are laughing or not. But I have a few stories that I’ve told for the last fifteen years, and so some of the ones that the students seem to like, I still try to tell the same jokes or stories and have a sense of humor online. I don’t know how those are going via Zoom, but there’s 400 students out there you could ask.”

The feedback he has received on his online lectures so far has been indirect, in the form of a social media post his son passed on to him.  

“I have an iPad that I’m using and I didn’t have an Apple pencil, I had this cheap pen that I got off of Amazon,” Carrell said. “But I was drawing my graphs the other day and my son, who’s a junior at Davis High, […] shows me a picture of his, I think it was Snapchat, and says, ‘Dad, your graphs are horrible.’ So someone in my class had put on Snapchat, ‘Someone tell Professor Carrell to get an Apple pencil.’ So I rush-ordered an Apple pencil, which I will use in my next lecture.”

During one of his online tests, in which students are proctored by having their webcams turned on, Carrell witnessed something that he deemed to be meme material.

 “One person left their camera on and left, and their roommate was out in the hallway dancing,” Carrell said. “I thought that if someone was watching that, it would definitely be a meme.” 

Written by: Lyra Farrell —  features@theaggie.org