Session: Inspiring Ideas for Economics Education

Day 1, Monday 28 June 2021
4-5pm BST // 11am-12pm EDT

This session will spotlight innovative and inspiring ways to approach teaching economics, chaired by Gina Pieters (University of Chicago).

Acquiring Actionable Student Feedback in Real Time Through Graded Questionnaires

Tobias Brevik, Florida State University


Download Tobias’s slides here


As teachers, it can be challenging to acquire an accurate understanding of students’ experiences in our courses. While end of semester evaluations can provide actionable feedback that can be implemented in future courses, they are not useful for the course being taught at the time. During the COVID-19 pandemic it is especially important to have an accurate picture of students’ experiences so teachers can respond in real time. In this presentation I will discuss a questionnaire I developed with both quantitative and open-ended questions that allowed me to collect actionable feedback from a majority of students in real time. I define this feedback as “actionable” if the feedback explicitly or implicitly provides a suggestion for at least one component of the course or teacher behavior that the teacher has the reasonable ability to modify or retain. The data comes from my Principles of Microeconomics course from a six week section in Summer 2020. Students completed the Questionnaire a total of four times during the semester. Including nonresponses, about 94% of students gave actionable feedback at some point in the semester. Roughly 68%, 72%, 74%, and 64% of students gave actionable feedback as an answer to at least one question in Questionnaire 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively. While asking open-ended questions comparable to those that sometimes conclude end of semester student evaluations is an option, I argue that my questions can provide richer and more various answers and can also be modified for other educator roles. I hope to gain feedback on the questionnaire itself and suggestions for future work.

Developing the Role of Data in Teaching Introductory Microeconomics

Tim Burnett, Aston University


Download Tim’s slides here


It is broadly accepted that examples based upon ‘real-world’ economic data can be used to support and reinforce the learning of economic theory by university students. In this presentation, I will present findings from my present research into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of data in teaching introductory microeconomics, motivated in particular by:

  • The breadth of approaches currently being employed, and variety in the extent to which data is embedded in economics modules (such as a primary or experiential learning tool, or as a supplement to conventional lecture-led approaches)
  • The diversity of thought on the specific benefits of data and a data-led approach to economics education

Through a review of pedagogical literature, and a combination of short surveys and interviews with UK-based educators, the underlying research behind this proposal aims to provide an overview of the theoretical rationale for the inclusion of real-world economic data as a tool to support the teaching of introductory microeconomics, to identify the scope of ways in which data is incorporated in introductory microeconomics modules, and an understanding of the perceived benefits associated with a number of approaches—both in terms of outcomes and implementation.

These questions around the use of data in economics extend beyond simple ideas of students’ retention of information and impact on ideas of how educators can design learning activities to promote diversity, inclusion, and students’ broader soft and hard skills. I hope this presentation will be of interest to all lecturers engaged in the design and delivery of microeconomics, or with an interest in the design of engaging and effective teaching activities.

Un- (or Self-) Grading: Reflections from an Upper-Level Elective

Sarah Jacobson, Williams College


Download Sarah’s slides here


We often complain that grading is the worst part of teaching. However, some argue that grading is not just an unpleasant chore, but possibly detrimental with regard to fairness and learning; see, e.g., Jesse Stommel: In 2020-21, I used “ungrading” (really, self-grading) in an upper level elective and independent studies at a selective liberal arts school. While it did not reduce the time I spent giving feedback, it did seem to give students a very positive and productive learning experience. In this presentation, I will reflect on my ungrading experience, mostly focusing on the elective.

The class, on the economics of environmental behavior, had 14 students, all junior and senior economics majors. The course is a seminar, with class time used to discuss economics journal articles and assignments including replication exercises and components that build to a novel research paper.

To implement ungrading, I removed all grade weights from my syllabus. Through the semester, I gave the same level of feedback on all assignments as I normally would, but did not provide grades. Students had three rounds of self-reflection: goal-setting at the start of the semester, a check-in mid-semester that let students adjust goals, and a final self-evaluation. In this final stage, each student proposed their grade, with an explanation.

I consider this a successful pilot and plan to continue ungrading for electives in the future. While I have no counterfactual, I infer that student engagement and achievement were at worse not reduced, and may have been increased, since both were extremely high. Further, I believe that students had a greater sense of agency and empowerment over their learning process, as well as more freedom to be themselves.

Q&A document

Download the Q&A document containing answers to session questions.

Giving yourself your own grade, expressing your emotions to your professor, and experimenting with data: Inspiring ideas for economics education

reflection of the session by TeachECONference2021 Student Partner, June Hong

Full Session recording

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