Additional Workshop Sessions in Quantitative Economics

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

Teaching level 1 Mathematics and Statistics can be particularly challenging when A level Maths students and non-A level Maths students are combined at level 1 for Quantitative Economics units. I tried to tackle this problem last year with the introduction of a mid-semester mock test and follow up workshop sessions. While involving additional time these sessions have improved both referral and retention rates and have served to engage those students who often become disillusioned in the quantitative elements of the undergraduate economics degree course.

I have developed a workshop programme which is delivered specifically to those students at level 1 who, in week 8, are showing signs of falling behind or are displaying a clear lack of understanding of certain topics. These workshop sessions also make up a large proportion of the student learning experience.

A mock test is given in week 7 to determine student understanding of the topics and their ability to work through the material. The mock test lasts 1.5 hours and students are able to use their lecture notes to work through the questions. All the mock tests are then reviewed and students are put into 1 of 3 categories (those who must attend additional workshop sessions (category 1), those who would benefit from additional sessions (category 2) and those who have a firm understanding of the material (category 3)). Additional workshop sessions are then booked for those students in category 1 (although those in category 2 and 3 are made aware that they are welcome to attend any sessions if they feel they would benefit from the additional sessions) It is made very clear to students that these extra sessions are provided for their benefit and that not attending is only going to be detrimental to their performance in the unit.

The initial workshop session involves students working through the mock test. In subsequent sessions students are provided with worksheets that cover a range of topics studied throughout the unit. Groups are small (ie. 4-5 students per session) and as such students who participate receive very dedicated attention. I had 100% attendance of category 1 students at all workshop session and even had a number of students attend who were in categories 2 and 3 but who stated that they wanted to attend simply to reinforce their understanding of the material.

The feedback from these sessions has been excellent and has included comments from students who indicated that this was the first time that they had gained a proper understanding of mathematical/statistical concepts and their relevance to real world situations. Additional information about the success of these sessions came in the form of in-class test results and exam success. 94% of students who had earned between 0% and 39% in the mock test passed the subsequent in-class test. While this is a resource heavy activity, Quantitative Economics is often the most troublesome unit for students at level 1 and the area that creates the most problems in terms of referral and retention. Thus the additional resource during the first semester of level 1 paid dividends in terms of student performance, resources dedicated to referral activities and the cost of losing students to other, less mathematically based degree courses.