Best Practices and New Ideas for Teaching Econometrics

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.


In this final session hosted in partnership with the Royal Economic Society, the speakers talked about the new techniques and resources that can improve the teaching of econometrics. Our first speakers were Joshua Angrist from MIT and Steve Pischke from LSE, who presented their unique Example First Approach. On a strong note, Pischke highlighted that econometric courses often lack focus on real-world issues and rely on theoretical models too much. As a result of this, students frequently fail to absorb the content and apply it to their future jobs. As a way to deal with this, he suggested an Example First Approach that makes the content easier to digest. To do this, he usually introduces real-world research before introducing abstract concepts. In my opinion, by posing examples of real-world problems first, such a method gives students a strong motivation to investigate the solution, and I think that it is with such motivation that students will find it easiest to digest theoretical content.

Along similar lines, Amanda Gregg from Middlebury College mentioned that theoretical concepts prove to be difficult for many students to internalise, and more often than not, these theoretical concepts interact with each other in many models. Facing this, Gregg used simulations in her classrooms to improve teaching. In this session, she illustrated the relationship between the central limit theorem and standard normal distribution by using simulations. In my opinion, such a method allows students to explore the concept in an interactive way, helps to cement foundational concepts, and it ensures the understanding of future material.

Similarly, George Orlov from Cornell University presented two innovative types of classroom activities that help content absorption: invention activity and sense-making activity. On the one hand, the invention activity exposes students to a complicated problem that’s based on a concept that has not been mentioned yet in the course. To illustrate such activity, he elaborates on the example of an invention activity based on regression discontinuity IA. On the other hand, the sense-making activities first introduce the students to a concept and then provide contrasting examples that showcase the concept in action and how it interacts with students’ pre-existing knowledge. Quite similar to the Example First Approach mentioned before, this method was really effective in eliciting my inner curiosity, and it also made abstract concepts easier to digest.

Apart from knowing how to better teach econometrics, it is possible for staff to use econometrics and data to learn more about their classrooms. I believe that more often than not, lecturers fail to realise the mood in the classroom and pursue either of these two options: continue teaching nevertheless or ask if there is any doubt in an intimidating way, to which almost no student responds. Besides, I believe that if any questions are asked in those instances, they usually come from the hand-raisers and those that understood the material better. As a solution to these scenarios, Teddy Svoronos, a Lecturer from Harvard Kennedy School showed how he used polls and other techniques to investigate his classrooms. Thanks to this, he was able to tweak content accordingly and enhance his teaching. Particularly, he mentioned Teachly, a website used at Harvard that allowed him to track participation dynamics in the classroom and also helped him to create an inclusive learning environment.

Paul Samuelson once defined econometrics as ‘the quantitative analysis of actual economic phenomena based on the concurrent development of theory and observation related by appropriate methods of inference’. As such, this course is often the most challenging course for many students, and the new practices presented here in TeachECONference can work as a guide for teachers around the world to improve the teaching of econometrics.


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