The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) Projects

CILASS, the Centre for Inquiry-based Learning in the Arts and Social Sciences, announced a new scheme in January 2009, offering grants and other support to individuals or groups in UK Higher Education to enhance or initiate IBL related activity (also known as Problem-Based Learning) in their teaching in their home institution. Two projects are relevant to economics:

Promoting Inquiry Based Learning in Economics through Online Gaming

by Suresh L. Gamlath, School of Business, Faculty of Professional Studies, Thames Valley University

Project summary

1.1 The project aims to promote inquiry based learning among undergraduates by integrating an online simulation game into their curricular activities. The students are first-year accounting and finance undergraduates taking an introductory module in economics.

1.2 Economics is a subject-discipline that requires the learner to be intelligent about his/her contemporary environment, and therefore prove more effective when delivered in active relation to the real world events.

1.3 However, harnessing the potential of real-world events to inform students’ learning in economics is more challenging than forcing on them the requirement of reading the ‘Financial Times’ or the ‘Economist’; it requires a clever way of involving them in the economy as events transpire.

1.4 The stock market simulation game will place students in the scenario of investment managers tasked with managing a £100,000 equity portfolio of stocks traded on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). The prices quoted for each trade by the game system is the same price as that quoted on the main board of the LSE, with a fifteen-minute delay.

1.5 Each student while managing an individual portfolio will operate in a (voluntary) syndicate comprising 5-7 others, thus having to coordinate his/her investment decisions with that of team-mates.

1.6 In this student-centred environment, learners will be exposed to the dynamics of the contemporary economic world and challenged with the task of making decisions under highly realistic conditions (high-fidelity simulation).

1.7 As students rise up to the challenge, the tutor will experience a shifting of role. In such an environment the role of the tutor will transform from one of instructor/teller/transmitter to being a facilitator/coordinator/consultant. The tutor’s interaction with the students will be both formal and informal as well as physical (in-class) and virtual (online).

1.8 In addition to acquiring knowledge of economic principles in a meaningful way, students would also develop skills to manage their own learning both as individuals and as part of a group. Faced with the prospect of solving a real-world problem as it develops with no prescribed solution they will also gain a taste for creative thinking and experimentation. In the broader scheme of things learners would also have improved their economic intelligence and promoted their role as global citizens.

1.9 The project aims to deliver the following specific outcomes:

  • Design the simulation-based exercise that would be capable of delivering the learning objectives of the module as well as engaging students in an active learning environment.
  • Integrate the exercise into the module taking into consideration the assessment structure; impact on student learning, and; procedural requirements.
  • Using in-class tutorials and online discussion boards, monitor and support students’ learning process in the simulation-exercise.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the simulation exercise in promoting inquiry-based-learning and outline improvements that could be made to the original exercise.
  • Document the outcome and observations of the case-study for dissemination.

Engaging Statistics

Guglielmo Volpe, Department of Economics, Queen Mary, University of London

Project summary

The main aim of the project is to redesign the structure, organisation and delivery of the first year Spreadsheet and Data Analysis module that I teach at Queen Mary, University of London. Given this general aim, the main objectives of the project are:

  • To develop a set of ‘hands on’ activities that will require students to engage with the collection, manipulation and interpretation of statistics while at the same time inducing students to deal with the theory of statistics;
  • To redesign the structure of the courses to embed a greater problem or enquiry based approach to learning;
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of the new learning approach;
  • To explore the possibility of extending the problem based approach to the first year, second semester module Statistical Methods in Economics 1

The Spreadsheets and Data Analysis module is a first year, first semester course whose aim is to introduce students to the use of spreadsheets and the collection, manipulation and interpretation of statistical data. The module is also intended to provide first year students, new to University studies, with a fun and engaging introduction to statistical analysis which, will then investigated more rigorously in the second semester in the Statistical Methods in Economics 1 module.

I have been teaching the Spreadsheet and Data Analysis in Economics module since September 2008 when I first joined Queen Mary University. However, I have had limited time to change the module, but I hope to be able to do so from the next academic year.

I believe that the students will benefit in various ways from a restructuring of the module around the principles of inquiry based learning:

  • A subject relatively ‘dry’ and ‘technical’ such as statistics can show its proper relevance when actually applied within the context of everyday life. This will help students both appreciate the subject and recognise that complicated-looking equations or formula often have a simpler meaning and interpretation;

An alternative learning approach to the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ can help students settle more quickly in their first year and can help them meet and engage with more students on the course.