Seminar/Tutorial activities for Quantitative Economics

Contact: Rebecca Taylor
Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Economics, University of Portsmouth
Published March 2002

This case study is included in the guide Seminars prepared by Rebecca Taylor for our Handbook for Economics Lecturers.

As part of my drive to ensure that students are given a stimulating learning environment I have focussed much attention on developing a more interactive participatory model for level one mathematics and statistics units that will serve to capture the interest of students who would not traditionally be able to cope with the rigorous mathematical content in the undergraduate suite of economics degrees.

Student participation in seminars is encouraged through group focussed activities. 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 such as

  • Each group receives a set of 4 questions - each question relating to a topic covered in the previous lecture. In the first half of the seminar students work through the questions in groups of four. I provide support/advice/further explanation where necessary. The groups then write the workings to one specified question on an overhead. The second half of the seminar involves one nominated student from each group teaching their allocated question to the rest of the students in the class. All students are free to ask questions following each presentation. Answers to all questions are provided at the end of the seminar. Ultimately this exercise encourages students to become involved, ensures that all students have worked through every type of question relevant from the lecture material, and supports the idea that greater understanding is gained from teaching rather than always being on the learning end of the equation. This exercise is repeated in four seminars throughout the semester (spaced out between other activities) in order that all students have the opportunity to participate in the teaching process.
  • Each student receives a cue card with an equation of a line written on one side and a set of co-ordinates 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 then 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 others understanding of the subject. This is also an effective activity in encouraging 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 their intersection point by the three methods they are asked to turn the cue cards over and find the equation of the line that uses the two specified co-ordinates. Students are then required to find the point at which their lines intersect.
  • Students are asked to form groups of 4-5 and each group member is assigned a number from 1-5. Each group is then given a question to solve that relates to a technique/topic in Quantitative Economics (with each group focussing on a different technique/topic). Students are given 15 minutes to work through their problem and ensure that each member of the group understands all aspects of the assigned problem. Students are then asked to get into groups whereby all students in one group were previously assigned as #1, #2, #3, #4 or #5; thus there are now 4-5 groups all of whom have a member who had spent the first 15 minutes working through a different question. Students are then required to spend the remaining seminar time teaching the other students in the group how to successfully solve their assigned problem. At the end of the seminar students have worked with two different groups of students, have worked through a new mathematical technique, have taught this technique to other students, and have learned from other students how to do different types of questions in quantitative economics.

The feedback from these and other activities used is excellent- students feel engaged in the process of learning (and teaching where they have been teaching concepts to others) and consistently state that the activities used help them to understand the topics covered. It should be noted that these techniques do not have to be isolated to the field of quantitative economics; I have also used some of these activities in optional units at levels 2 and 3 (ie. International Trade Theory) and have found that with minor adjustments they can be very successful.