As we approached the end of 2020, CTaLE spent some time reflecting on Term 1 (2020) and looking ahead to Term 2 (2021).
Though it is often easier to zero-in on the negatives, we thought it would be far better to focus on the little (and big) wins that made up Term 1. One that comes to mind was the overall success of the adaptable learning model that Parama and Cloda, as Connected Learning Leads, helped introduce in the Economics department. As we shifted more to online teaching, a highlight for Ramin was using Zoom, which allowed him to explore ways of teaching interactively. He was able to continue incorporating music before class and during group work, which served as a great icebreaker for students as they would chat about song recommendations and keep the lecturers informed of cultural trends. Teaching virtually also led to the revamping of the First Year Challenge (FYC) to make it accessible to the 800 students (wow!) logging in from all around the world. The high-quality submissions and student feedback put the FYC firmly on Parama’s highlight list. In Term 1, Frank enjoyed teaching the Computational Methods for Economists (ECON0114) and Economics of Science (ECON0055) modules. Teaching ECON0055 again after a hiatus was particularly enjoyable as the module typically attracts a small class of genuinely interested students. Classes became more like conversations and individual students were able to select their own learning aims.
Throughout the term, CTaLE also continued co-hosting EconTEAching sessions with Stefania Paredes Fuentes (University of Warwick) and covered topics such as “Enabling Student Learning Through Asynchronous Videos” and “Creating a Community of Learners Online” featuring great and inspiring colleagues. In Reading Week, for a bit of intellectual fun and safe travelling, Ramin brought us on a virtual journey starting from 1828 with an Economics Walk around Bloomsbury, London. Due to great feedback and demand, CTaLE, alongside Doug McKee (Cornell University), also started planning TeachECONference2021 and opened our call for papers (check it out if you’re interested!). Though term is just 10 weeks, we sure know how to fill it up.
As many of us worked from home and will continue to do so for the time being, the line between work and life becomes blurry and it’s very easy to get caught up in the “just one more email” mindset. A key takeaway from Term 1 that we hope to bring forward to Term 2 is the importance of stepping away from the screen more regularly and learning to budget our time for the sake of both our eyes and mental health. With this in mind, in Term 2 Cloda is hoping to write up the reflections and lessons learned in the past year into papers – watch this space! Ramin will continue his quest to keep students engaged and is looking forward to the challenges and rewards of making a class of 400 interactive. Parama will be teaching a Team-Based Learning class online – a class she (and students) finds enjoyable as they work in teams on policy issues during the live sessions. Frank has always enjoyed teaching Environmental Economics (ECON0052) and is looking forward to teaching it again. He has replaced a standard “sustainable fisheries” item with a case-study item about the sustainable management of the fisheries in Lake Victoria for which he collected case-study material from local sources, including interview material, with the great help of a post-graduate student in Nairobi, Margaret Achieng. A key aim of this material is to further highlight how sustainability issues are often deeply entangled with socio-economic inequality, gender-inequality and geo-political issues. Frank is looking forward to seeing whether the students, upon taking in the material collected for them, incorporate this side of “complexity” into their understanding of the subject matter.
Of course, we have to mention the exciting events CTaLE has lined up. Our annual undergraduate research conference, ExploreEcon, is being modified into an online event (details to come shortly) and we will be continuing EconTEAching sessions with the first one of the term, “Engaging Large Classes Online,” happening next week.
What this past year has showed us is not only the resilience of our students and how well they responded to the challenges that have been thrown at them but also how amazing our colleagues are as they got stuck in and developed fantastic learning experiences under trying circumstances. For the coming term and the future beyond that, we hope everyone can continue to be understanding of each other, fully appreciate each other’s efforts, and look out for one another.