This Course at MIT

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Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 14.73 The Challenges of World Poverty as it was taught by Professor Esther Duflo and Professor Abhijit Banerjee in Spring 2011.

This is a course for those who are interested in the challenge posed by massive and persistent world poverty, and are hopeful that economists might have something useful to say about this challenge. Questions such as the following are explored through lecture, discussion, reading, and writing:

  • Is extreme poverty a thing of the past?
  • Why do some countries grow quickly while others fall further behind?
  • Are famines unavoidable?
  • How do we make schools work for poor citizens?
  • How do we deal with the disease burden?
  • Is micro finance invaluable or overrated?
  • Should we leave economic development to the market? Non-governmental organizations (NGOs)?
  • Does foreign aid help or hinder?

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

At the end of this course, students should have a good sense of the key questions asked by scholars interested in poverty today and hopefully a few answers as well.

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

At MIT:

After Graduating:

  • Working for J-PAL
  • Graduate school in economics
 

Curriculum Information

Prerequisites

None, although knowledge of statistics can be helpful

Requirements Satisfied

Offered

One semester per year

The Classroom

  • This classroom, which seats 135, has stadium-style rows of seats. At the front, there is a large table and six sliding chalkboards in a 3 wide by 2 high configuration.

    Lecture

    Twice a week, students meet for lecture in a large, tiered classroom. Instructors use sliding chalkboards and project slides and movies.

  • This small classroom, which can hold about 30 students, has three rows of chairs with attached desks. At the front, there is a small table with two chairs and two columns of sliding chalkboards.

    Recitation

    Once a week, students meet in smaller groups for recitation. About half of the students are in each of the two recitation groups.

 

Student Information

On average, about 49 students take this course each year.

Breakdown by Year

Roughly 10% freshmen, 45% sophomores, 25% juniors, and 20% seniors

Breakdown by Major

Roughly 50% Economics, 20% Business / Management, and 30% other

Typical Student Background

  • Analytical and logical problem-solving skills
  • Basic knowledge of calculus and statistics (though not necessary)
  • Interest in development, policy, management, economics, and social science
 
 

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:

Lecture

3 hours per week
  • Two class sessions each week; 1.5 hours per class; 26 sessions total
  • Attended by all students
  • Taught by Prof. Esther Duflo (1st half of course) and Prof. Abhijit Banerjee (2nd half of course)
  • Lecture style, supplemented by Powerpoint slides and occasional movies, intermingled with interactive Q & A from students in order to induce thought-provoking, real-time conversation and learning
  • Pop quizzes
 

Recitation

1 hour per week
  • Once a week for 1 hour
  • Taught by graduate student teaching assistants
  • Two separate sessions, each with a different instructor, to accommodate learning styles and schedules
 

Out of Class

8 hours per week
 

Semester Breakdown

WEEK M T W Th F
1 No classes throughout MIT. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session.
2 Office hours available. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session; assignment due.
3 Office hours available. Lecture session; pop quiz. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session.
4 No classes throughout MIT. Office hours available. No session scheduled. Lecture session; pop quiz. Recitation session; assignment due.
5 Office hours available. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session.
6 Office hours available. Lecture session; pop quiz. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session; assignment due.
7 Office hours available. Lecture session; pop quiz. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session; assignment due.
8 No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT.
9 Office hours available. Lecture session; pop quiz. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session; assignment due.
10 Office hours available. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session; assignment due.
11 Office hours available. Lecture session; pop quiz. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session; assignment due.
12 No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session; assignment due.
13 Office hours available. Lecture session; pop quiz. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session; assignment due.
14 Office hours available. Lecture session. No session scheduled. Lecture session. Recitation session; assignment due.
15 Office hours available. Lecture session. Exam review session (optional). Lecture session. No classes throughout MIT.
16 No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT. No classes throughout MIT; final exam held.
Displays the color and pattern used on the preceding table to indicate dates when classes are not held at MIT. No classes throughout MIT
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when lectures are held. Lecture
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table which indicates dates when office hours are available. Office hours (optional)
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table which indicates dates when quizzes are held. Pop Quiz
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table which indicates dates when exams are held. Exam
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when no class session is scheduled. No class session scheduled
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when recitations are held. Recitation
Displays the symbol used on the preceding table which indicates dates when assignments are due. Assignment due
Displays the color used on the preceding table to indicate dates when exam review sessions are held. Exam review (optional)
 

Instructor Insights

Below, Prof. Esther Duflo and Prof. Abhijit Banerjee explain the role of pop quizzes in the Spring 2011 offering of 14.73 The Challenges of World Poverty, as well as how the structure of the course has changed to a "flipped" classroom since the Spring 2011 offering.

Pop Quizzes

Pop quizzes were a terrific tool to ensure that students came to class prepared, having read the readings and thought through some of the tougher concepts in the course on their own time. This way, students engaged with the class in and out of the classroom. Students also came to class prepared, and thus got much more out of lectures, as they could contribute their own thoughts and ideas based on the readings.

The “pop” element of the quizzes – also thought of as a quizzes randomly administered – was very effective at ensuring students did readings even when no quiz was administered.

Flipping the classroom

Since 2011, the course has shifted in its approach. All of the lectures were video taped in 2011. The course now employs a “flipped” model, where students are expected to watch the lectures at home on the edX platform. During this time, they answer "finger exercises" and homework questions online. This frees up class time for more interactive activities.

In particular, during the first half of class students are grouped into teams. They prepare a presentation together on a weekly case study (e.g., ways of alleviating poverty through health-based interventions), pulling from readings and the online lecture video.

Then, in the latter half of class, one group is randomly chosen (in real time) to present to the rest of the class. This random element ensures that all teams have an incentive to create a strong presentation, since anyone could be asked to present. At the same time, it would only be feasible for one group to present each day, given limited class time and class space constraints. Thus, the random draw allows us to operate within this logistical context while still providing incentives for all students to perform. Ah, the power of randomness!

The presentations are then evaluated by TAs. Each student is assigned both an individual and team grade. This grade is incorporated into each student’s final grade, along with their performance on online assignments, written assignments, and exams.

 

Course Team Roles

Lead Instructors (Prof. Esther Duflo and Prof. Abhijit Banerjee)

Responsibilities:

  • Responsible for course development and organization
  • Lecture every week, with Prof. Duflo covering the first half of the course and Prof. Banerjee covering the second half of the course
  • Review and edit all homework and mid term questions before they are made public

Teaching Assistants

Teaching Assistants (TAs) are typically second to third year graduate students selected from the development track in the economics PhD program. TAs have often either completed an intensive development course in their first two years in the PhD program and/or have worked on research projects with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, which is directed by Prof. Duflo and Prof. Banerjee.

Responsibilities:

  • Lead recitations once a week, focusing on supplementary course topics and problem-solving. This includes statistics concepts, review sessions, going over homework problems, etc.
  • Create all homework and exam questions and material for review by professors
  • Hold weekly office hours