The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

2.4 Engaging students with strong maths and stats skills

A key issue when delivering a maths and stats module of learners with diverse ability is how to keep those with a strong ability engaged, as there is a tendency to deliver to the lowest ability in the student body. A few practical examples of how to maintain the engagement of stronger students are outlined below:

1. There is a vast array of software that can be used to complement key delivery of maths and stats modules. This software ranges from maths and stats packages such as Matlab, Derive, Maple, SPSS, Eviews, Microfit, STATA. There is also a range of open source software and you could consider using Excel. You may also consider using e-learning support software that complements various textbooks. While this type of software may help to embed key concepts it can also prove a useful tool in setting extension work for stronger students. One method may be to use a computer lab with the added facility of a central area of tables and chairs. This set-up would allow students to carry out paper-based exercises and then start on the computer-based activities depending on the speed of progress. The advantage of this approach is that one-to-one help can be offered to those attempting paper-based exercises while stronger students work through computer-based activities independently. 

2. The traditional approach to deal with more advanced students is to set an additional number of ‘challenging’ problems. However students may not engage with the more advanced question just because they have been asked to do so. As a result you may wish to consider a competitive element to solving the more advanced questions. You may consider offering a prize for the student who is the first to answer the most of these questions correctly over the teaching sessions.

3. You may consider designing your assessment so that the students that have engaged with more advanced problem solving in classes are able to have more confidence in attempting more difficult assessment questions.

4. You may find that a substantial number of students with strong maths and stats ability actually find it more difficult to apply the techniques to economic problems. Therefore, rather than asking the more able maths and stats students to attempt more advanced problems practicing the same generic maths and stats techniques you can set problems that involve students tackling problems using the techniques in the context of the material covered in the core economics modules.

5. If you have decided to stream your seminars/workshops for maths or stats you may have scope to arrange some presentations during the sessions for more advanced students. This may take the form of asking a group to produce a short (perhaps 5/10 minute) presentation summarising the key learning outcomes and for these to be delivered at the end of the session each week.