Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Alex Raskolnikov, host of Columbia's Tax Policy Colloquium Series, continues our series on how to best structure a tax policy workshop series:
We've just started a tax policy colloquium at Columbia, so our experience is limited to one year. Both students and faculty participate. To give students some basic understanding of what's about to come, we spend the first two classes lecturing on key tax policy concepts. We also assign a fair bit of "Taxing Ourselves" by Slemrod & Bakija (now in 4th edition). After that, it's a different presenter every week, with students writing short response papers and getting a final grade based on these papers and on their participation in the discussion. It took a considerable effort to convince students to ask questions, but we managed to succeed after two or three sessions. We kept separate queues for students and professors, and alternated between the two queues. This way students were certain to ask their questions, but could also listen how the discussion unfolded among academics. We thought about arranging papers thematically, but it was just too hard given the presenters' timing preferences. We also didn't give systematic feedback to the students, but responded to informal inquiries about the quality of their response papers and in-class questions. I would say that our format is really a faculty workshop with student participation. As long as students understand what they are signing up for (we made sure they did), they end up pretty satisfied with the experience.