The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

Making Social Data Social

In 2023 we ran a week-long data event (Johnson et al., 2023) designed to provide economics students with the basics of Python for data visualisation. In this article, we use our experience of advising teams in these events to bring together 5 ideas which can help embed a highly social environment, while enhancing participants’ performance and teamwork.


Special events and workshops with a focus on providing students with a new data analysis experience are an excellent opportunity for students to put their skills to use in a more authentic setting. Kentucky’s Econ Games (Al-Bahrani and Patel, 2022) provides students with an opportunity to answer a challenge set by an industry partner in a time-limited fashion, reflecting the pace of real-world decision making. Their 2022 collaboration with CTaLE (CTaLE, 2022) in the virtual space offered students an additional international dimension to the experience. Longer events such as St. Catherine’s University Data Fest (Krafft, 2023) meanwhile, provide a supportive, collaborative approach to running data analysis projects based on the needs of the community.

Idea 1: Vertical integration

Vertical integration involves opening the event to students from a range of stages in their studies (ElZomor et al. 2018). For example, first year undergraduates may work with third years, or research master’s students may work with taught postgraduates or second year undergraduates. This creates an excellent opportunity for peer learning and collaboration based on their different experiences. It also gives the event a different feel to a regular class as participants interact with people they have not worked with before, but with whom they still have many experiences in common.

Idea 2: Structure the team building

Much as the Think, Pair, Share approach can be used in the classroom to allow students to more easily engage with discussion, slowly building teams across the event can help form stronger teams. Data events often involve some element of data cleaning, coding and/or analysis. Using techniques such as pair programming for these sorts of tasks can help students become comfortable working together (and with the data) before moving onto bigger group tasks and collaboration. Pair programming (see Demir and Seferoglu, 2021 and Williams 2001), is a technique commonly used in industry and involves two students working together on one computer. One person (the ‘driver’) inputs the code while the second person (the ‘navigator’) observes and makes suggestions. This means that pairs must constantly discuss what they are doing and talk through any problems they encounter. Once students have built confidence working together in this way, they can then move to larger teams working on new questions or challenges.

Idea 3: Include social questions

When deciding on tasks to help participants grasp the basics of coding or data analysis (e.g., creating lists and dataframes), write tasks which encourage them to learn about each other. For example, instead of setting the task:

Create a list of five vegetables

A more social alternative might be:

Create a list of the favourite economics modules for the group of people on your table

This provides a convenient excuse for participants to start talking together and finding out something about each other.

Idea 4: The right setting

Making sure the environment is relaxed can help students work more comfortably and productively together. It also helps to set a tone which feels different to that of a regular class. Methods for doing this will depend on the physical classroom environments available. Wherever possible choosing a room which facilitates active learning in teams (Proud, 2022) will help set apart a data event from a regular lecture. This is likely a room which enables participants to work around a table, with access to power where lengthy laptop use is required.

Playing background music and providing simple snacks (e.g., biscuits, fruit, and cans of water) can also shift the environment away from the conventional classroom and aid learning (de la Mora Velasco and Hirumi, 2020). However, given that background music can affect different students differently, it is a good idea to include questions about background music on a pre-event survey. Ask students if they can work with it and, if so, what they prefer.

Idea 5: Reduce presentation anxiety

Fear of formal presentations can prevent some students’ from taking part (Grieve et al., 2021) and are not always in keeping with the spirit of lively team-based data events. Alternatives, such as short video presentations can help alleviate this, but also consider other formats such as the classic ‘science fair’ format where judges visit each group and talk through the work of each team. During this time the remaining teams can circulate and discuss each other’s work. This approach also allows opportunities for helping the students improve. For example, they can submit their work in the morning, instructors can then provide some top-level feedback and teams can make final adjustments before judging.


Data events can be an excellent opportunity for students to engage in real world, authentic tasks and put their academic learning into practice. However, it is important to make sure as many students as possible feel comfortable and able to fully participate and enjoy the event. This stresses the importance of carefully considering the social experience alongside the technical tasks. Done correctly, this can also help improve performance and attainment in analytical skills.


Al-Bahrani, A. & Patel, D. (2022) About - The Econ Games. (Accessed: 04/10/2023).

CTaLE (2022) UCL Students Win the Econ Games. (Accessed: 04/10/23).

Demir, Ö. and Seferoglu, S. S. (2021). A comparison of solo and pair programming in terms of flow experience, coding quality, and coding achievement. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 58(8), pp.1448-1466.

ElZomor, M., Mann, C., Doten-Snitker, K., Parrish, K. and Chester, M. (2018). Leveraging vertically integrated courses and problem-based learning to improve students’ performance and skills. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, 144(4)

Grieve, R., Woodley, J., Hunt, S. E. and McKay, A. (2021). Student fears of oral presentations and public speaking in higher education: a qualitative survey. Journal of Further and Higher Education45 (9), pp.1281-1293.

Johnson, A, Papadopoulou, A & Simion, S. (2023) 'Adventures in Pair Programming', Economics Network: Developments in Economics Education 2023, Heriot-Watt, 5 Sep 2023. (Accessed: 04/10/23).

Krafft, C. (2023) 'Building Econometrics Skills and Confidence through Community-Engaged “Data Fest” Events', CTaLE: TeachECONference 2023, UCL, 30 June 2023. (Accessed: 04/10/23).

de la Mora Velasco, E. and Hirumi, A. (2020). The effects of background music on learning: A systematic review of literature to guide future research and practice. Educational Technology Research and Development68, pp.2817-2837.

Proud, S. (2022) If you build it, will they come?: A review of the evidence of barriers for active learning in university education. REIRE Revista d'Innovació i Recerca en Educació, 15(2), pp.1-14.

Williams, L. (2001). "Integrating pair programming into a software development process." In Proceedings 14th Conference on Software Engineering Education and Training. 'In search of a software engineering profession' (Cat. No. PR01059) (pp. 27-36). IEEE.

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