The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

4.1 What can I do if I am teaching a first year maths module with a high failure rate?

Step 1: Maths admissions criteria

Obtain data on the performance and maths qualifications on admission of previous students taking the module. Assess this data to identify if there are any grounds for uplifting the maths entry requirement – are you setting students up to fail? The entry requirement will differ by institution depending on the varying demands of economics programmes.

Step 2: Test/screen students during introductory/first week

Design a test with the help of various internal and external support bodies. An example test is provided at the end of this chapter (section 7.1). The turn-around time will be tight so ensure that the test is reasonably quick to mark and that staff are on hand to undertake the marking.

Step 3: Preliminary maths module

Based on the test results decide on which students should be exempted from a preliminary maths module. An example preliminary maths module syllabus is provided at the end of this chapter (section 7.2). A second module attended by all students should follow this preliminary module.

Step 4: Maths module organisation

The seminars/workshops for the maths module that all students attend (following the preliminary maths module) should be organised according to the maths screening results in step 2.

Step 5: Checking the effectiveness of your strategy

Assess the results of the students and amend your strategy and screening tests as appropriate.

4.2 Students are passing the 1st year maths module but the staff teaching 2nd year microeconomics and macroeconomics are concerned that students are not familiar with key maths/stats concepts. What should I do?

Step 1: Check your syllabus

Check whether your syllabus provides suitable coverage of key techniques that are used in the microeconomics and macroeconomics modules. This will probably mean that you need to sit down with the leaders of the microeconomics and macroeconomics modules.

Step 2: Are you connecting the concepts in the maths/stats module with their economics application?

Once you have checked your syllabus you need to ensure that you are using economics examples that allow students to relate the maths/stats techniques to the content of the microeconomics and macroeconomics modules.

Step 3: Is your teaching and assessment strategy designed to ensure that the key concepts are embedded?

It may be that you need to consider more innovative ways to deliver the material depending on your group of learners. Your assessment strategy is also important as one final exam may lead to students disengaging and ‘cramming’ for the exam, rather than having a deeper learning and thus embedding concepts.

4.3 I am teaching a maths/stats module and running lectures and seminars/workshops but attendance is very low. What should I do?

Step 1: Reconsider your syllabus

It may be that students do not see the importance of the material covered in the module and are therefore disengaging. Reflect on how the material covered can be altered and linked to other modules in their programme of study.

Step 2: Are you teaching sessions that provide an active learning experience?

Students often disengage from a module if they do not feel that they are learning anything important. Therefore in addition to reviewing your syllabus you could look at whether the delivery of the module needs re-thinking. Perhaps you need to link the sessions more clearly to your assessment strategy for the module.

Step 3: Have you designed your assessment to encourage continuous participation in the module?

If you have a one form of assessment it may be worth revising your assessment strategy to encourage continuous engagement throughout the teaching weeks. Consider using phase tests (see 2.6.2 above).

Step 4: Are you following up non-attendance?

It is worth checking what attendance monitoring takes place in your subject group. If non-attendance is not followed up frequently or at all it may be worth discussing if you can do so at the module level.

4.4 I am teaching a maths/stats module and the weak students are no longer attending the sessions. What should I do?

Step 1: Have you streamed students according to ability?

If you have not tested and streamed your students according to ability it is worth trialling this approach. It could be that the weaker students are reluctant to attend and attempt the tasks or ask questions for fear of looking ‘stupid’ and so they disengage.

Step 2: Are you providing learning material that is accessible to your weaker students?

It may be useful to reflect on whether the material provides a sensible starting point for weaker students. If you are concerned that you are going to end up teaching to the lowest ability students then why not think about longer sessions just for the weaker students? (see section 2.2 above)

Step 3: Are you providing support outside the scheduled sessions for weaker students?

You may wish to investigate some of the following: putting students into study groups; running maths clinics; a student-mentoring scheme.