Editorial, Volume 5 Issue 1
Dr. Ross Guest, joint editor
What makes teaching an interesting and rewarding part of academic life? Although we may have somewhat different responses to this question I am sure most of us would agree that an important ingredient is the opportunity to teach new things in new ways. New challenges in curriculum design and pedagogy - the 'what to teach?' and 'how to teach it?' questions - invigorate us as teachers. These questions are the subject matter of the papers in this issue.
Two papers: Martell et al. and Pang et al., show how engagement between universities and schools can be helpful for students and teachers at both levels of education. For example, Martell et al. report on an innovative program in which high school students are concurrently enrolled in a university economics unit. The tuition takes place at the high school with a university academic as the teacher and a high school teacher present in the classroom but not actively involved in the teaching. The program was primarily about strengthening ties between the university and both the high school and local community in order to ultimately boost university enrolments. In addition,however, it seems to have raised an appreciation among both university and school teachers of a wider range of available pedagogical practices and the circumstances in which they are appropriate.
Pang et al conducted an experiment to investigate the variations in the ways in which students conceptualise the notion of a market price. Whilst this piece of work was conducted with children it has relevance to economics educators in higher education as well. Research on students' understanding of price began with studies of undergraduates in the 1970s and these have consistently shown the extent to which students' everyday understanding of price resists the efforts of teachers and lecturers to help students to develop a more sophisticated way of thinking.The experiment involved five teachers and 162 students at "Primary Level Four" of school education.The central idea that emerges is that effective pedagogical practice requires an appreciation of the variation in the ways in which any phenomenon such as price may be understood by students, which in turn is a function of the variation in their prior learning experiences. The authors show how an appreciation of these differences allows a mix of pedagogical tools for addressing misunderstandings and promoting new understandings. The authors interpret their evidence as showing that they have succeeded in enabling primary school children to acquire a way of understanding of price in their every day lives that surpasses that observed in previous research with many students of economics in higher education.
Two papers (Asano, and Shiu and Sin) deal with the merits and potential traps in the use of diagrams as a pedagogical tool. Asano deals with the perennial trade-off between simplicity and accuracy in using diagrams. Simple rules are often helpful and appropriate for junior students but can lead to misleading conclusions and confusion. The example considered is the rule that MC=MR is not sufficiently precise in the case where the MR curve cutting the MC curve at two places. The issue is whether this can be finessed by the instructor by adding further simple rules (such as ignore the first point of intersection between MC and MR) or whether the instructor should bite the bullet and teach second order conditions. Asano argues for the latter, although readers might feel that this would be more appropriate for economics majors than for business students taking one or two economics units in their degree.
Shiu and Sin make a similar point about the need for care in avoiding misconceptions by students in the use of diagrams as a pedagogical tool. They draw on the cognitive psychology literature on top-down and bottom-up processes of thinking in making the general case in favour of diagrammatic analysis subject to the qualifications similar to those made by Asano. The two examples discussed are, first, the impact of a sales tax on profit in the short run and the long run; and, second, the effect of a minimum wage on employment.
What to teach is just as important as how to teach it and, moreover, the two questions are difficult to separate. At least they constrain each other. The two aforementioned papers illustrate this point, as does the paper by Turner. He takes up the point first made in this journal by Guest (2003) that the Taylor-Romer model of macroeconomic equilibrium is an improvement on the IS-LM model as a pedagogical tool. The innovation in Turner's paper is to show how parts of the IS-LM model can be salvaged and integrated with the Taylor-Romer model. This should please instructors who are understandably reluctant to throw out tools that they have spent years learning and applying in their teaching and research.