Author: Xuyi Wang
BSc Economics Y3
TeachECONference2021 Student Partner
Following a very successful first-ever TeachECONference in 2020, the Centre for Teaching and Learning Economics (CTaLE) has returned in 2021 with an expanded format. Accounting for many issues teachers have faced with online teaching, the speakers presented thought-provoking topics, ranging from lessons learned in the pandemic to the ways to help students succeed in economics. Moreover, this conference has connected many experiences around the world, bringing dynamic conversations that will shape how economics is taught in the future.
Steffie Paredes Fuentes from the University of Warwick opened the Lessons Learned from Teaching in a Pandemic session, in doing so, she highlighted that teaching staff around the world have accumulated significant knowledge on online teaching and that there is a lot that teachers can learn from their counterparts across the globe. Our first speaker, Gosia Mitka from the University of St Andrews presented the blended teaching strategy that she used for the International Finance module she teaches. Considering the limitations imposed by COVID-19, she added elements to her module such as handouts during lectures, VLE activities, tutorial group work in breakout rooms, group video challenges, and more.
Such a strategy allowed her to teach, interact, and assess her students in a seamless manner. What’s more, the feedback she obtained was overwhelmingly positive. As an economics student myself, I have found that modules with a similarly diversified portfolio of activities are better at engaging students. Furthermore, I have found myself enjoying more and investing more time into such modules as well.
Diving deeper into the topic of online teaching, the second speaker of the session, Jana Sadeh from the University of Southampton, talked about breakout-room discussions. To introduce this topic, she highlighted many questions teachers had at the beginning of the pandemic: How can we foster engagement in online classrooms? How can we cement learning? How can we create a positive student experience? In that situation of doubt, Sadeh recurred to breakout rooms as the ultimate solution to those questions. More specifically, she gave handouts to students during tutorials so that they could work on them in their breakout
rooms. Despite initial struggles, Sadeh received overwhelmingly positive feedback on her peer learning strategy. In fact, existing literature documents that peer learning does not only improve the student experience but also helps students acquire skills that are valuable in the labour market. What are the implications of this for teaching? As far as I am concerned, Sadeh’s findings are not surprising, and combined with the literature, everything indicates that universities should find ways to incentivise collaborative learning.
Closing the session was Sylvia Kuo, a Senior Lecturer at Brown University. As part of her online teaching approach, she uploaded pre-recorded videos and associated them with open-ended questions, with participation in these questions as a component of the final grade. Thanks to this, she was able to collect questions from most of the students rather than from a small selection of ‘hand-raisers’. As the module progressed, the questions Kuo collected revealed flaws in many students’ understanding, not only of new material but also of foundational concepts. All of this shows how important it is for teachers to examine their students’ ‘true foundational understanding’ and answer ‘inarticulate’ questions that might benefit the whole classroom.
This last year has proven to be a huge opportunity for teachers around the world to explore new territories in teaching. From ways to encourage collaborative learning to better ways to elicit questions, the lessons learned by our speakers suggest that there is a lot to be done yet. Even if in-person teaching will inevitably be coming back, the lessons we have learned can still be applied to transform education in the future.