Track 2: Teaching Students from Diverse Backgrounds 

Premiere: Tuesday 21 June 2022, starting 3pm BST/10am EDT

Messages that Improve Learning and Satisfaction. An experiment in an Online Economics Course

Sara Avila, University of Colorado Boulder 

Premieres, 3pm BST//10am EDT


Physics, Engineering, and other STEM disciplines use the Pedagogy of Belonging in their teaching practices. They do so because when students do not feel a part of the community, they invest effort trying to fit instead of using this effort to learn, conduct research, or anything else. While we claim that anyone can have days when inadequacy affects the learning experience, evidence suggests that women and minority groups are more likely to feel that they don’t belong in STEM disciplines and Economics is no exception.

This paper explores a communication strategy to enhance the sense of belonging in Economics students. The instructor conveyed in several ways the following message:

“Dear student: I see who you are, and I value and respect you, and I want to share this learning experience with you.” Professors can use this strategy at any time and in other formats. However, the online format provides evidence that can be tested using the experimental framework.

I claim that addressing students by name and trying to value their personal experience alludes to the principles of the pedagogy of belonging. These messages that foster belonging contribute to reducing one of the mental challenges identified in the Education of Economics literature: student fear and mistrust. To communicate this message, I used the information that students shared during discussions. Weekly announcements addressed the students’ stories, and I sent a personalized message to each student after the midterm.

The results were improved learning, measured by better grades in the Cumulative Final Exam, and more enjoyment of the course, measured by student comments. I present the strategy and its results.

The Transition to University: A School Teacher’s Perspective 

Damian Phelan, University College London

Premieres, 3.20pm BST//10.20 EDT


Between 2010 and 2019 I worked as a school teacher educating students aged 11 to 18 in three of London’s most disadvantaged boroughs. My time working in schools included two and a half years at what has been labelled “the strictest school in Britain”, Michaela Community School. I then decided to embark on a masters, and now a PhD in Economics. As part of my PhD programme, I have spent this academic year as a teaching assistant working with 1st year undergraduate students on UCL’s introductory economics course. I would like to share some reflections on my experience, particularly on how we manage the transition of students from school into university.

The best schools have extremely high expectations of their pupils in terms of the effort expected in class, the quantity of independent learning that students must do, and standards of punctuality and professionalism. The best schools also have excellent support systems to ensure that students are able to meet these expectations. These systems of support are understandably substantial when young people start school aged 11 and are then gradually withdrawn as they progress. However, even at age 18 school students still benefit from firm boundaries, especially those students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
When young people reach university the support and the boundaries change dramatically. Students with strong intrinsic motivation and family support cope with this quite well, while those who don’t, and these are students who are disproportionately from lower income backgrounds, struggle. I want to share some thoughts on how we can better support all students in the crucial first year. This will include ideas on the delivery of lectures and tutorials, as well as some more general thoughts. There are lessons to be drawn from schools and I would like to share them.

Use #TeachECONference2022 on social media!