The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

5.1 Activities for quantitative economics

Purpose

As part of a drive to ensure that students are given a stimulating learning environment I have tried to develop an interactive approach for level 1 mathematics and statistics units. This captures the interest of students who would not traditionally be able to cope with the rigorous mathematical content in the undergraduate suite of economics degrees. Students are organised into small sub-groups and set tasks to complete that will enhance their understanding of the material being covered. In order to maintain student interest, the tasks vary on a weekly basis and include activities. The feedback from these and other activities used has been excellent. Students feel engaged in the process of learning and consistently state that the activities help them to understand the topics covered.

A key feature of these activities is that they place students in the role of teacher, having to explain to other students how to work out answers to problems. This idea is strongly associated with the work of Palincsar and Brown (1984) who termed it ‘reciprocal teaching’. In a long-running programme of research with younger students, they identified key roles in teaching (clarifying, questioning, predicting) and demonstrated the benefits for learning if these roles are undertaken by students. These activities apply this principle in higher education. It should be noted that the activities could be adapted for use in teaching other aspects of economics.

Activity 1 for quantitative methods seminar

Each group receives a set of four questions on topics covered in the previous lecture. In the first half of the seminar, students work through the questions in groups of four. The seminar leader provides advice and further explanation as necessary. Each group is then asked to prepare an overhead projector transparency that shows how they worked out their answer to one of the questions.

In the second half of the seminar, one nominated student from each group teaches their method of answering the question to the whole class. All students are free to ask questions following each presentation. Answers to all questions are provided at the end of the seminar. This exercise encourages students to become involved and ensures that all students have worked through every type of question relevant from the lecture material. This exercise is repeated in four seminars throughout the semester in order that all students have the opportunity to participate in the teaching process.

Activity 2 for quantitative methods seminar

Each student receives a cue card with the equation of a line written on one side and two sets of coordinates written on the other side. Students spend the first 15 minutes of the seminar plotting their line on a graph. Using the graph and the equation, students are then asked to find a student who has a line that intersects with their line. This person becomes their partner for the rest of the seminar. The pairs of students must then find the intersection between their two lines using three different methods. At this point the students are working together and can gain from each other’s understanding of the subject. This activity also encourages students to work with different people in the class, creating greater interaction and a more integrated and cohesive learning environment.

Once the students have found the point at which their two lines intersect, they are asked to turn the cue cards over. Using the two sets of coordinates on each card, students are then asked to find the equation of the line that passes through these two points. Thus each student will find the equation of a new line. Finally, students are asked to find the point at which these two new lines intersect.

Activity 3 for quantitative methods seminar

Students are asked to form groups of 4–5 and each group member is assigned a letter between A and E. Each group is given one question to solve that relates to a technique or topic in quantitative economics. Each group focuses on a different technique or topic. Students are given 15 minutes to work through their problem and to ensure that each member of the group understands all aspects of the assigned problem.

The groups are then rearranged so that all the students labelled A are working together, all the students labelled B are working together and so forth. As a result there are now five new groups and each student is working with others who have been answering different questions. Students are required to spend the remaining seminar teaching the other students in the group how to successfully solve their assigned problem.

By the end of the seminar students have worked with two different groups, have worked through a new mathematical technique, have taught this technique to other students, and have learned from other students how to answer other questions in quantitative economics.