Whenever I think about my role as an instructor, my focus is on student learning and not necessarily teaching as an end in and on itself. My definition of learning contains a set of three critical components to learning: process, change and experience.
To achieve these goals, I have developed the following specific teaching strategies:
Focus on the concepts and problem solving skills
Among the Social Sciences, Economics is undoubtedly one of the most computationally heavy and model intense. It becomes easy for students to get caught up in memorizing a series of steps in order to obtain the solution without realizing the underlying principles, lessons and assumptions that have led to that particular path of solution.
In order to address this particular issue in terms of backwards design and scaffolding, I start by describing a particular economic issue that the upcoming economic model is trying to address and describe – this is sometimes done through a simple narrative of a situation, exposure to real-world business cases or even classroom experiments. Students are then asked to identify previous economic models they have learned previously and their limitations to study this particular situation. This step is particularly important as it allows student to develop natural links within theory and literature, as well as to understand the extension and limitations of each approach.
The new model is then introduced with its composing elements and figures. At this point there is no computation involved, but rather the focus lies on getting students to interact conceptually with each building block, the steps taken and the reasoning behind each of them, until finally the conclusion can be seen as a natural consequence of the economic environment and assumptions. Only then students are exposed to various functional forms of agents’ optimization problems and can explore algebraic and analytical solutions.
A particular advantage of this method is the students’ acquired ability to transcend the simple setup in the initial exposure by learning how to deal with changes in assumptions, comparative statics and functional forms quite naturally.
Communication is Critical Thinking.
Focus on obtaining answers above all else can sometimes be detrimental to students, who may reduce their learning outcomes to obtaining a specific answer or number. Learning is certainly a process and not an output; however it is by producing outputs out of the acquired skills that students allow themselves to critically think about the subject matter.
Therefore, my coursework has a significant portion of exercises and exams in which students are asked not only to explain and reproduce concepts that have been explained in class; but to apply these concepts to particular situation. Having worked in industry in which the work environment is inherently interdisciplinary, I require students to produce essays in which they are asked to explain their points of view to highly skilled professionals who may have never taken a class in Economics. This reinforces their ability to communicate their understanding without relying on jargon.
Mostly, I believe there is no learning if critical thinking isn’t part of the process. Memorizing the steps is much different than knowing the path. I know the skills that are developed in the classroom will be useful in their professional lives much later than the end of each course; and these skills will only be there to be accessed and used if students are able to critically think about them.
Learning is dynamic, and so is the classroom.
Following pedagogical concepts such as the learning pyramid, comes the understanding that a unique method of exposure to content is bound to fail as a comprehensive learning experience. The objective of each an every activity employed within the classroom is to nudge the achievement of the students to their potential by using the zone of proximal development as described by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygostsky. Throughout the duration of each course, I employ a variety of resources; such as self-written class-notes; slides, in-class exercises, student-lead group projects, Kahoot, classroom pedagogical games, exams and debates.
My class-notes are available to students in printed form prior to the beginning of the semester as part of their required course-pack. In elaborating and designing them, I’ve thoroughly thought in each chapter about introducing each model as described above, as well as providing students with solved examples, challenging exercises of various intensities that will test their understanding of the desired learning outcomes, and provide the necessary scaffolding for the semester. Additionally, by providing an organized and well-structured material from the get-go, it shifts the necessary responsibility to students to be in charge of their learning experience and be self-starters.
In my post Using Kahoot in the Classroom I explore the different learning processes reported within the learning pyramid as it relates to Kahoot. Similarly to this type of narrative, each and every classroom resource that is used has a thought process that is focused on students’ experience and learning process behind it.
Grading, yes; but Assessment above all.
Grading is an inherent part of teaching, and within my courses it is no different. However, I understand grading, just as all other pedagogical sources, ought to serve a purpose within course design. Thus, assessment is incorporated into the course as not purely a way to ex-post evaluate students performance and rank them; but rather during the whole course, giving early feedback as to students likely development of the learning outcomes as well as to identify a growth path.
During my time at KU I have been fortunate to have been a Graduate Assessment Consultant for the Office of First Year Experience; in which I was involved with the evaluation and quantitative analysis of the Critical Thinking rubrics used on first year seminars across The University of Kansas.
I have certainly incorporated my knowledge of rubrics and assessment design into my courses. During projects students develop, I use rubrics for both presentations and written reports. Rubrics are available upon request.
I believe a good place to start is to look at some student’s feedback regarding the learning experience they had taking my classes. I have selected a few that can illustrate it.
- Hello Jessica, I’ve decided to forgo law school next semester to enter the work force and save money for a year instead. I enjoyed IO immensely and wanted to you to know that the course inspired me to pursue a legal career with the DOJ’s anti-trust department. […] I hope that your doctoral studies are going well. If it pleases you to know, my biggest regret in undergrad was not winning coffee during your game theory lecture.
- Thank you so much for the way you care about your students and the effort you put into all you do!
- I’ve recommended it to many of my friends.
- [I would recommend this class to a fellow student] if they have a good understanding of calculus and are interested in learning about real world scenarios […] well taught and engaging.
- I cannot express enough my appreciation, Jessica!!! I am grateful for your help!!!
It is impossible to talk about value added through teaching without talking about quality standards. I have compiled below the aggregate results for the student evaluations I have received as the instructor on record at the University of Kansas, which is conducted by the university itself.