I work diligently to ensure that students are gaining an understanding of the difficult economic concepts by creating a student-centric, inquiry guided learning atmosphere where students are encouraged to take ownership of their education.
I believe the most effective method of engaging students is to employ an active and inclusive style of teaching where each class is different. My goals as an instructor have been shaped by my experience as an undergraduate. I clearly remember my first economics “light bulb” moment, which occurred when studying diminishing marginal returns. I strive to create these moments for students every time I step in front of the class.
The use of alternative texts, in class debates, student led discussions and group work help to bring practical learning into the classroom and assist students in developing an understanding of the subject. Alternative texts provide perspective, context and humor which resonate with students. Structured in-class debates and student led discussion expose students to differing viewpoints and encourages critical thinking while group assignments create a sense of camaraderie among students.
Five years of classroom experience has taught me to value the following principles, all of which I believe contribute to an excellent student experience.
- Matching writing assignments with course content: In order to help students understand the importance of the scientific process they are required to complete a research proposal for Principles of Economics. Students initially find the proposal process to be frustrating however, comparing first drafts to completed proposals is rewarding as an instructor. Students improve significantly in their understanding and application of economic concepts throughout the semester and writing ability improves exponentially. While some students find the exercise challenging others have had success in submitting and receiving undergraduate research grants as a result of the assignment. I believe that engaging students in activities that push them into unfamiliar territory builds important skills that will be invaluable in the future. The proposal assignment is instrumental in accomplishing this goal. In conjunction with the proposal we review academic journal articles, which challenge students to think critically and comprehend unfamiliar concepts, exposing many students to academic literature for the first time and expanding critical thinking skills.
- Teaching beyond a textbook: I utilize an alternative pedagogy to accomplish the aforementioned teaching goals. I strive to transform what can be deemed a “boring” subject into one of interest through the use of texts such as, `Economics of the Undead,’ and `Homer Economicus.’ These texts present economics in a context that is amusing and familiar to students, serving to keep them engaged in the classroom. Students enjoy engaging in discussions of Zombies as an invasive species or matching markets for human girls and zombie boys. I have found that students stay ahead of the readings when they find the text interesting, this results in interested and engaged students and lively class discussions.
- Active participation through self-evaluation: I believe it is important to provide students with experiences similar to those they will face in their future careers. To accomplish this goal students required to submit a self-evaluation of their attendance and participation along with a justification for the grade they believe they have earned. I have found that students are uncomfortable evaluating themselves however, I explain to students that many employers have a similar requirement. It is imperative that students are able to objectively reflect on and justify their performance. This builds important professional skills and brings practical learning into the classroom.
- Managing expectations and building trust in the classroom: Having a strong relationship with students is vital in creating an atmosphere that is conducive to mastery of economics. Building trust starts with a syllabus that clearly outlines learning objectives, evaluation criteria and instructor expectations. As an instructor I take the responsibility of following through on time-lines and expectations seriously. This requires being open with students and affording them input into their learning experience. This provides students with a structured but flexible environment which caters to a wide range of learning styles.
- Connecting concepts through active learning: Active learning connects theory to practice. To illustrate the functioning of competitive markets students are required to gather data on the price of coffee at 15 coffee shops around campus. The students are surprised to learn that the price of a 12 ounce cup of drip coffee converges to a price of $1.95. This type of exercise gives students in principles of economics a chance to gather and analyze primary data while demonstrating fundamental concepts.
Combining practical life skills with inquiry based learning and an inclusive classroom pushes students to meet their academic potential. Through fostering an inclusive and open classroom I have found that students take ownership of their learning and produce high quality work. I will continue to strive in helping students accomplish their academic goals while pushing them into uncomfortable territory. It is my hopes of preparing them for academic and professional success.