Using METAL resources to teach Economics

Vitalia Kinakh
The Manchester College
Published December 2009

Introduction

Two years ago I took part in a workshop organised by the Economics Network. At this workshop Rebecca Taylor introduced the METAL project, an idea which really appealed to me as a lecturer in Economics. Therefore as soon as I learned that the Economics Network was seeking lecturers to trial METAL resources, I decided to play a part in their evaluation.

Scenario

As a lecturer in Economics at the Manchester College, I find that new students have increasingly mixed abilities. When applying for courses, many students don’t really know what they would like to do in the future. They are choosing Economics courses mainly because they assume that it will lead to a stable career. Most of my students are not greatly interested in Economics or curious about economic problems. They are baffled by economic vocabulary and perplexed by economic theories.

Lecturers have been using educational videos for decades. However some of the examples in Economics are now archaic. I am a strong advocate for the use of short video clips in the classroom. I previously had a bad experience using “long” videos, which took up almost the whole lesson time. After 10 minutes my students tended to lose their interest very rapidly. I realised that short educational films allow students to remain focused on the topic of study and also allow time for follow-up activities.

First Steps

At first I spent a few days watching all the films available on the METAL project’s website as this resource was of a primary interest to me, and I needed to make sure that they were appropriate for my classes. I believe this is necessary with any multimedia resource.

Next I created a simple table to jot down, for each film, the topics for which I might consider relevant. Then I allowed myself some time for reflection. I assessed other video clips illustrating the same topics, sourced from the TV broadcasters’ websites such as BBC and Euronews as well as websites such as YouTube and TeacherTube. My goal was to choose a video which explains a specific topic most concisely and effectively. I found the METAL films ideal for explaining specific economic concepts.

There were also topics, such as the Multiplier Effect, for which in the last three years I have not been able to find a suitable educational film. I was impressed to see a METAL video clip tackling this specific concept: Multiplier Effect in Poland.

After selecting the films, I embedded them in my lesson plans. I intended to use the METAL project films in my Economics classes in a supporting role. It would be mainly to illustrate a particular Economic concept.

I also devoted some time to reading trough all the case studies in order to know in what detail and how plainly the cases were explained.

After that I glanced through questions available in the Question Bank under the section Economics applications in order to assess the complexity of questions on such topics like Elasticity, Input-output analysis, the Theory of the firm, growth and interests. Then (by creating a direct web link) I added this section to a list of resources on our Moodle course, which our students can access at home or in the Learning centre.

Using the films in a typical lesson

After introducing the topic I presented the key terms and provided their definitions. I think it is better to make the key terms known to students before viewing the video clip as hearing new terms can challenge and confuse students.

Then I showed the film. I do not believe in pausing and re-starting the video clip as it breaks students’ concentration. The video clip is then like a short presentation introducing a specific economic concept.

I am aware that “watching a video can also be a passive experience and so teaching methods must be used which instead turn it into a springboard for student action and interaction. ... Students can be given simple tasks to carry out while watching a video which will help them to engage with the video’s content. A balance has to be found which doesn’t ask too much of students, but does help to keep them active.” ("Using Video in Teaching and Learning", JISC Digital Media)

Rather than giving some tasks for my students to do while watching a video clip, I initiated various follow-up activities. At times I chose to generate a class discussion. For example, classes studying modern economic problems can learn about the effects of government subsidies on price and output in French and American wine production through the film 2.07 Linear Equations - Taxes and Subsidies in Wine Markets. It is a good topic to discuss.

On other occasions I distributed worksheets, which include calculations using formulae presented in the film or which require students to become conscious of specific rules or vocabulary, e.g. 1.09 Powers - Production Functions in Gold Mining and Oil Production.

When using worksheets I would often re-play the film or a flash animation and pause at a defined point to allow my students to write down a formula or a statement/ set phrase. Students work individually to complete the worksheet. I tend to allow students a minute or two to consult with a partner as they fill it out.

Technical aspects

As METAL resources are available only on-line, there can be technical problems with streaming the films or doing tests on-line, because some institutions tend to apply filters that block certain websites. Therefore straight from the start I sent a request to our internet technicians to unblock the METAL project’s website.

I prefer to stream all video clips. However, it requires a fast and uninterrupted web connection. Teachers should check this is technically possible. Alternatively, it is a good idea to download films and the flash animations of the METAL project website on a CD-ROM or USB drive, so that there is no reliance on the internet connection.

Recommended strategies

Embedding these films in Economics lessons and activities can be accomplished using the following strategies:

  • Embedding films into the lecturer’s Moodle or Blackboard course. The direct web links to selected METAL project films as well as the direct web links to a chosen section in the Question Bank can be added to course sites such as Moodle or Blackboard. This should provide students with information about the topic and additionally allow students to try questions out at home.
  • Concise presentations during lectures – Lecturers can embed these short video clips in their lectures, to show at the appropriate time. This should jazz lessons up while retaining students’ interest.
  • Watch & Work – Lecturers introduce follow-on activities after showing a video clip to a class. Content of the video clip might be used to begin a discussion; or individuals may look at the vocabulary used in the film or individual work using formulae presented in the film.

Conclusion: How METAL resources are useful in supporting students’ learning

Some students find Economics as a subject to be abstract and therefore mind-numbing. Educational films developed by the METAL project team employ real-life situations and examples, not only from the UK but from economies around the world. These real-life examples are very important, because they help students to put theoretical concepts in context. Therefore students find it easier to understand them. Notably this encourages students to positively engage with the topic in question.

METAL films are concise. They sum up economic theories in just a few minutes, making them a good introduction to a topic of study, especially since students generally have short attention spans. They are also smart, clear and explicit.

Because films were created by teachers for educational purposes, the presenter speaks clearly and uses economic terms and business language when needed. The script of each film is well thought-out. Moreover, the key vocabulary and terms are related only to the current topic of study, therefore there is no deviation. Students’ attention is focused on the introduced topic and its vocabulary, which leads to a better grasp of a topic of study.

It is recognized that students have different learning styles; the use of educational films brings variety. Student use a combination of senses (hearing + seeing): it creates a memorable and inclusive learning experience, e.g. when talking about Geometric Series - Changes Over Time in a Country's Living Standards. Students develop a combination of skills: listening, speaking and reading. Moreover, visual images help students to recall economic concepts and formulae that are important to learn but hard to keep in mind. As a result, fewer students are discouraged.

Another advantage of the METAL project films is that they can be used to teach from high-beginners like students on access courses to first year and second year undergraduates.

Our curriculum of Economics courses is based on using elementary mathematical formulae. The METAL project outputs enhance this approach by showing how these economic concepts and mathematical tools are used to analyse the state of an economy or a particular market and forecast the nature and speed of changes. It becomes possible to familiarise students with a much greater number of Economic concepts within the same timeframe and at a higher level.

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