The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

5.3 Content, sequence, balance and engagement

In setting out to design (or to redesign) a curriculum, it is perhaps inevitable that much of the focus will be on what to include and in what order – as well as how to structure and organise the material. However, it is also important to be aware of the need to engage our students with their learning, and to design the curriculum to transmit the excitement of the subject. If we do not engage our students with the subject we will have failed.

Engagement comes partly through the way in which we deliver material, but curriculum design is also important. One way of capturing our students’ attention through curriculum design is by using the ‘Threshold Concepts’ approach as outlined in the chapter in the Handbook for Economics Lecturers by Peter Davies and Jean Mangan.[1] These concepts offer a focus on key ideas that can begin to introduce students to the way that economists think. For many students, it is also important to highlight applications of economic theory in the early weeks, balanced against the need to demonstrate the importance of learning and polishing quantitative skills. It is also crucial to remember that our students come from diverse backgrounds and have diverse preferences. There will be those who relish the mathematical approach and are keen to engage with theory. We need to cater for them as well.

The sequencing of material is not independent of the curriculum architecture. The flexibility of the short-fat system could allow students to follow, say, micro and maths in the first half of the year, and macro and stats in the second half. This is more difficult under a long-thin structure, where students will probably have to take all four simultaneously, although conceivably it would be possible to concentrate on micro in Part 1, leaving macro until the following year.

The transition between levels needs to be carefully planned, as this can be equally as difficult as the transition from A-level to university. ;The step-up into Part 2 can be a large one, and it may be wise to build in some overlap at the beginning of the Part 2 units. For example, under a short-fat curriculum students might take micro in the first semester of Part 1 and then do no further micro until they meet micro theory in the first semester of Part 2, at which time it can be quite a shock to the system!