Using Resource-based Learning in Teaching First Year Economics

Contact: Les Simpson
Deputy Head of School of Management, Director of Undergraduate studies, Senior Lecturer, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
L.D.Simpson@hw.ac.uk
Published April 2001

I have been using a resource-based approach to teach first year Economics for about ten years. The main aim in introducing it was to cope with increasing student numbers and a declining unit of resource whilst enhancing quality, standards and student performance. This was achieved by adopting an approach to teaching and learning which reduces the emphasis on teaching and encourages students to take responsibility for their own learning.

Students are supplied with a study programme, which lists module aims, objectives, learning outcomes, lectures, workshops and incorporates references to the assigned reading, exercises, problems and case studies for them to work through on their own time. If they feel they need help in their work they are advised to attend workshop sessions in which each week's exercises and other learning problems are worked through. Neither lectures nor workshops are compulsory. The course design encourages students to use the resources provided in order to achieve the specified learning outcomes.

We have about 500 students taking the first year economics modules at Heriot-Watt University, 300 of them studying for business and economics and the rest are science and engineering majors. They are offered three modules covering Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and International Economics that can be taken either as core modules or as electives. Students are offered three hours of lectures per week plus a workshop. Lectures are interactive. I ask questions requiring short answers and invite comment, a break is provided for reflection, note taking or just to chat with the neighbour. Lectures are supported by references to readings in the textbook and study guide. I use the M. Parkin, M. Powell and K. Matthews 'Economics' textbook and study guide with the associated CTIF (Computerised Test Item File) of self-testing multiple-choice questions. Students also have access to WinEcon, an interactive tutorial and problem-solving program designed to complement the lectures and recommended reading.

For student self-assessment and feedback I also use WebTest, a flexible computer based assessment tool, which has been developed at Heriot-Watt University. The majority of the questions in WebTest ask students to undertake a calculation and their answers are marked immediately. Students are also encouraged to work through a set of workshop exercises each week, including case studies, MCQ's and essays and to check their results against the answers provided prior to attending the weekly workshop. There is an examination at the end of each module. I have chosen not to use computer-based assessment for summative purposes because of security and reliability problems. The exam paper includes compulsory multiple-choice tests, short answer questions, and an essay. The three components are equally weighted.

Resource-based learning has proved to be very efficient and effective, significantly reducing staff teaching time and giving a pass rate of 90%-95%. Students' evaluation forms show that they approve the structure of the course and the way it is delivered. The only disadvantage is the reduced contact between students and academic staff.

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