CTREE 2016

This past week my colleague, Christian Spielmann and I were in Atlanta in the US for the annual Conference on Teaching and Research in Economic Education (CTREE) organized by the American Economic Association.

This conference brings together economics educators from around the world (though the majority are US-based) to present their scholarly work on teaching and learning in economics. We organized a2 hour workshop on teaching introductory economics using the CORE material, Christian presented a paper on his work with Frank Witte on programming in the Environmental Economics module, and I presented my work with Cloda Jenkins on a pilot study of module evaluations.

Some things we learned at CTREE 2016:

  • Atlanta is hot (upper 90s Fahrenheit)! Barbecue ribs in the South are delicious!
  • Our “large” lectures are not that large – I attended talks by lecturers at Penn State University among others, where the intro econ course enrolment goes up to 1000! What was amazing was that even in challenging contexts like this, lecturers are still engaging in active learning strategies.
  • Duke University has a centre which “… offers assistance with the many aspects of pursuing a degree in economics.” EcoTeach (this one, not this one) was founded in 2001, and the director, Professor Thomas Nechyba, gave a really motivating plenary talk about how it is leading the initiative to embed research into the undergraduate experience and encouraging interdisciplinary work among staff and students. There is a whiff of Connected Curriculum about this initiative, as well as a healthy dose of research-based education, so I plan to keep an eye on developments at EcoTeach.
  • Testing out different teaching techniques and technologies in a scientific way is hard, no matter where you are! I had a couple of interesting conversations with colleagues at very different universities about the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process which ensures the protection of human subjects. This essentially means that the process checks that e.g. students participating in a pilot study of a teaching technique are adequately protected against adverse outcomes. Getting your proposed research through the IRB process is quite time-consuming in most universities, but I couldn’t get a handle on whether the US protocol is that much stricter than in the UK. Something else to keep an eye out for for anyone interested in trialling different teaching methods.
  • For all the talk about active learning, the format of the conference was very much in terms of a traditional lecture. I would have loved to participate in more hands-on workshops on how to actually introduce a method in class (the ones that I did attend, this year and in the past, were fantastic). One on team-based learning and lecture flipping for example would be well received, I think.

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