One of the fun things I got to do over the Easter break was to visit Yale University as part of the Yale-UCL Teaching and Learning Collaboration. I had taught there for a year almost 10 years ago, so going back to my old haunts and meeting old friends was a fabulous experience. I met lots of new folks too – from Economics faculty to the teaching and learning group to the head of the international centre. My host was Doug McKee, who has a fantastic blog on teaching and learning and was our guest blogger in March.
Two experiences really stood out. One of the classes I attended was an intermediate macroeconomics lecture taught by William Nordhaus, eminent economist and someone who’s always discussed as a possible Nobel Laureate. The lecture was on inflation and the Phillips curve, one of the most important topics in economics but in my opinion also one of the driest. Through a mix of anecdotes (about his experience at the Federal Reserve), apt examples (reference to local pizza parlours and how they list their prices) as well as plain-old algebra, he managed to hold the attention of the fairly large group for the entire hour plus. There wasn’t much participation from the students, but as I sat at the back, I could see that almost all students were busy taking notes on their laptops or on paper. It was a low-tech, old-school type of lecturing, but at first glance, just as effective as any cool new pedagogic method at getting students to pay attention.
What I was most impressed with, though, was the fact that there were two Economics PhD students who were finishing up and had already landed very good academic jobs, and attended my talks (on teaching introductory economics and on Team-Based Learning). One of them also had lunch with me to ask more questions about the CORE project, which produced the materials I based my first talk on. It’s rare enough to see economics professors engaged in thinking seriously about teaching and learning, but to see grad students doing this at the start of their academic careers was amazing. Though I guess it is easier for someone who has not taught for long to think about new ways to do things. But if even a few grad students are starting to think in this way, teaching and learning in economics has a very promising future!