Enhancing Employability through Authentic Assessment

A Consulting Report in Intermediate Microeconomics

Dr Amrish Patel, University of East Anglia
Written for the Employability Skills Research Project, June 2019

Context

Undergraduate microeconomics education often involves essay-based assessments. Such assessments typically fail to develop employability skills. I designed and evaluated an authentic assessment as an alternative to essays: the “Economics Consulting Report”.

The assessment was used on a core Intermediate Microeconomics (2nd year undergraduate) module with 287 students. Students were asked to imagine they work at an economics consultancy and to develop a model using Expected Utility Theory to advise their client on what to do in the face of uncertainty.

Process

Students were free to choose whatever client and problem they liked. This really encouraged engagement with real world problems. Many students chose firms making choices in light of Brexit uncertainty, while others chose clients closer to their personal interests e.g. a football manager deciding which players to buy. Regardless of their choice, this personalisation meant students were very engaged in applying economics to the real world.

Writing a consulting report for their client immediately implied they developed a number of skills. First, while their theoretical model may be complex, they had to find ways to explain it in simple language to a non-economist (their client). Second, in deciding what to analyse they developed commercial awareness in thinking what their client would care about. This was particularly valuable in teaching students about the value of general theory and comparative statics. Third, this assessment was unlike most of assessments they had done thus far in their degree. It is particularly challenging to develop an independent theoretical model, have sufficient time to write up a report about their model etc. All developing valuable employability skills.

I developed several resources to ensure the assessment worked well. First, I created a suggested “workflow” for a consultant. When writing essays, many students often spend minimal time planning and just write. For a report, the opposite is true. One should do the analysis first and only then start writing. Second, I wrote an example report to illustrate the kind of micro theory analysis and advice a consultant might give. Third, I provided students with a rough mark scheme specific to this assessment since the requirements were so different from essays. Fourth, I demonstrated how easy it is to use Expected Utility Theory to create a simple model live in lectures, so that students have some workhorses to build on if they wish. This was particularly useful for students who really did not know how to start on this relatively open-ended assessment.

Evaluation

In order to assess the efficacy of the assessment I conducted a survey. Based on a 28% response rate (81 students), I found: 73% preferred this assessment to an essay; 81% learnt more from it than an essay; 93% felt it developed employability skills and 69% thought it should be used in other economics modules.

Skills developed by this activity

Skill/capability

 

Communication

 

Writing for academic audience

 

Writing for non-academic audience

Yes

Presentation to academic audience

 

Presentation to non-academic audience

 

Application to real world

 

Applying economics to real world context

Yes

Solving policy or commercial problems

Yes

Simplifying complex ideas/information to make them accessible to wide audience

Yes

Data analysis

 

Sourcing and organising quantitative data

Yes

Analysing and interpreting quantitative data

Yes

Fluency with excel

 

Fluency with statistical/econometric packages

 

Collaboration

 

Team-working with economists

 

Collaboration with non-economists

 

Wider employability skills

 

Flexibility

 

Creativity and imagination

Yes

Independent thinking

Yes

Can do attitude

 

Reliability

 

Resilience

Yes

Commercial awareness

Yes 

Time management 

 

Project management/organisational skills 

Yes
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