The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

2.1 Student preparation for the lecture

In some cases, it may be appropriate for students to come to a lecture 'cold', especially if it is an initial scene-setting lecture. Generally, however, students will gain more from a lecture if they have done some preparatory work. You could assign them reading or specific tasks. If so, you would probably have to address the question of incentives for students to do this work. This could amount to simple exhortation in previous lectures or in handbooks or online information, where the importance of the preparatory work was stressed. Alternatively, it could be built into a more formal process of study, leading to some specific individual or group work by students.

Top Tip 1: Giving preparatory work for the lecture helps students to see the relevance of the lecture and they will probably learn more.

Prior work could include:

  • Using the Web to provide background information. For example, if you were about to introduce the theory of international trade, you could get students to find out about recent debates and issues, such as trade disputes, the agenda for WTO meetings or the views of various interest groups. Such groups could include the US administration, the European Commission, particular industries (such as farming or steel), environmental groups, or various Third World interests (see for example, www.oneworld.net). If you were about to look at competition policy, you could ask students to look at the summaries of Competition Commission reports on http://www.competition-commission.org.uk/press_rel/index.htm.
  • Revisiting relevant theory covered earlier. For example, in the case of trade, the students could be required to revise production possibility curves, opportunity cost, or general equilibrium theory, depending on whether the teaching is at introductory or intermediate level. In the case of competition policy, students could be required to revise relevant parts of the theory of the firm. The lecture could start with a quick 'quiz' using multiple-choice questions (see below on the technology for quizzes and tests in lectures).
  • Asking students to identify a set number of issues to do with the topic. This will help them to contextualise the material and see its relevance. These issues could be posted to a discussion board, so that other students could read them. For example, as preparation for a trade theory lecture, you could ask the students to identify recent trade disputes and the arguments used by the various parties to justify their stance, or you could ask them to consider the arguments for and against providing protection for a specific ailing export industry.
  • Assigning reading to be completed before the lecture. This could be an introduction to theory or relevant evidence, perhaps from a textbook or an article. A brief quiz on this could be given at the beginning of the lecture, so as to provide an incentive for the students to do the work.

In all the above cases, clear guidance will need to be given to students about what is required of them. This could be given in student handbooks, but should probably be reinforced by having a discussion early on in the course in seminars about the role of lectures and how students can maximise the learning benefits from them.