The Talking Economics project

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Alan Hutton, Glasgow Caledonian University

This is the final report of an Economics Network funded project which ran from August 1 2004 to July 31st 2005

Main objectives/broad purposes of the project

The project's specific and immediate aims were:

  1. to build a Digital Audio Collection for use, alongside other resources in the context of a web-based learning environment, to help along promote 'conversations' on economic issues; and,
  2. to test out the approach in application to two 4th year honours political economy modules.

The longer-term goal - whose achievement depends on the outcome of the main JISC/NSF-funded Spoken Word Project to which this mini-project is linked - was to establish an 'economics collection' of catalogued and indexed metadata served from GCU but available through an authentification system to higher education users world-wide.

Main activities of the project (and how and why these may have differed from original plans)

Throughout the life of the project-initially with the use of a Digital Library Assistant who we were able to employ with the help of additional funds from the Spoken Word Project, Northwestern University and GCU-we have been able to collect items of BBC audio both from their archive and from current output. At times the availability of resources at the BBC and the difficulties of clearing rights were a constraint on the process, but the whole process has been significantly improved over the year and we now have over 100 rights cleared audio items-in time, only slightly less than our target. Indications as to the much wider range (beyond the BBC) of potential sources of audio are supported by our finding a number of relevant current programmes on the American NPR website.

In the Semester A module, Privatisation and Regulation, students were enabled to use audio items both through direct links in the module web-site and through accessing the audio repository and more than half of the group did so to the extent of referencing audio sources in their coursework papers. In the Semester B module, Political Economy of Economic Performance, we were able to further develop the integration of audio materials into the learning environment. Pieces of Audio linked on the web-site for students to listen to in their own time [including the possibility of pod-casting] were used as part of required preparation for class discussions. Audio items were successfully added to a list of books, one of which each student is required to review as part of their assessed coursework. In the main students' response to the audio has been very positive.

Perhaps the least successful element of the project lies in our failure to effectively deploy for students the Project Pad software through which users can share transcripts, annotations and comments on audio. The main reason for this has been delays in software development at Northwestern University. The limited use of Project Pad by tutors so far does, however, confirm our belief in the potential for this kind of software to integrate audio materials more readily into conversations in a scholarly community.

The actual use of a economics collection on a wider basis is dependent of the outcome of the Spoken Word projects goal of establishing a resourced service, nevertheless from the beginning we saw dissemination of the potential of this kind of use of audio material as a key part of our project. Initially we gave presentations at two Mini-project seminars organised by the Economics Network at Bristol. In April we presented a session at the Scottish Economic Society's Annual Conference in Perth, and in August we gave a Poster Presentation at the DEBE Annual Conference in Cambridge. We have given informal presentations to a number of colleagues in GCU and, in May we give a Workshop at the GCU Teaching and Learning Showcase. All sessions so far have raised significant interest amongst participants.

Outcomes of the project

Overall we have demonstrated:

  1. that, even restricting ourselves to BBC sources, there is a significant amount of audio material which can contribute to student learning in economics/political economy;
  2. that in digital form these audio items can be effectively deployed in a web-based learning environment-the effectiveness of this deployment will be steadily enhanced by advances in relevant software.

We feel confirmed in our perception that the immanence of much of this material adds an important dimension to those offered by other types of learning resource-and, more generally, makes students aware of the world of serious BBC radio.

The impact of the project has already been extended in a small way through the integration of some audio resources into the web environments of Economics 1 and a third year module, Alternative Economic Perspectives.

In two other ways there have been important indirect outcomes. First, the model of this Mini-project has spawned parallel projects looking to develop the use of audio (with funding applications to the relevant HEA Networks) in three other areas: Social Work and Social Policy [funded], Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure, and History.

Second, our exploration of the available audio resources at the BBC and elsewhere has formed the basis for an application the British Academy for funding to develop a History of Economics collection as a resource for the scholarly research community in History of Economic Thought, as well as for students in the field.

The next step? At a test level streaming video is already being run within Project Plan.

Available resources

The collected digital audio is accessible through the REPOS front end tool at http://www.spokenword.ac.uk/padova.php - using the keyword economics. External users are asked to give an education email and invent a password. Shortly we will load five programmes into our ProjectPad as demos and work towards the 100+ over the next few months.

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