Evolution of a Learning Culture: Using a Case-Study in Introductory Economics as a First Step

Contact: Fran Alston and John Troy
Napier University, Edinburgh, Scotland
F.Alston@napier.ac.uk
J.Troy@napier.ac.uk
Published October 2001

Napier University is moving along the path from being a teaching to a learning organisation following an incremental model of change. Steady adaptation to the changing environment is occurring in small steps. There is a strategic vision to create a more flexible approach to teaching and learning by gradually changing the rituals and routines which form the cultural web of this organisation. It is within this context that this case-study on Introductory Economic teaching is to be considered.

For a significant period of time there has been a high level of debate and discussion on establishing the most appropriate way to provide a platform for further studies in Economics and related fields. In most countries the approach has been fairly traditional - a micro/ macro introduction on a lecture/ tutorial basis backed by coursework and examinations. This is also the approach in use in Napier University.

The BA in Business Studies ( BABS) at this Institution has a part-time route for students. They attend in the evenings. The students are, in the main, mature with work and family commitments. This can often lead to 'catch up' in their studies as attendance is missed.

At the beginning of the last academic semester a paper-based study guide for students of Introductory Economics was produced. For the session 2000-2001 it was decided to run the Economics module on the BABS programme on a dual-system basis. The validated programme requires that students attend in the evenings hence it was not possible to offer the flexible package as a substitute for traditional teaching.

It was possible, however, to offer the students the flexible package as an additional set of materials. This allowed for satisfaction of the quality criteria, provided a different learning experience and allowed for student evaluation of the quality of the supplementary materials. In addition this approach allowed for comparison of experiences of students of this module (taught route plus flexible supplement) with their experiences of other modules on the same programme delivered on the taught basis only.

The key research question became, "Does the flexible learning package change the student learning experience (i.e. add value)?" Several subsets also were considered, such as "Was the material used as a replacement to attendance?" "Did it ease understanding of this module content in comparison with other modules taken?" and "To what extent should this approach be used elsewhere?"

The study group comprised 18 students of which 14 were studying at least two modules on a weekly basis. The students were given a questionnaire asking broad questions about the learning experience on this module compared with others being undertaken, followed by particular questions relating to the flexible supplement.

The summary of the responses suggested that all students listed the addition of the supplement as a positive feature of the process and specifically found:

  • The flexible materials were a useful addition to subject content delivered through the taught route
  • The materials related well to the practical experiences of the students
  • The flexible supplement articulated well with the taught programme
  • Part-time students feel more supported in their learning process through such an addition
  • The materials are not necessarily a replacement for the taught route

The student group were involved in the whole process from reviewing the materials and suggesting amendments to reflection upon their learning experiences in this module compared with others. Overall the responses and results were satisfying from an operational point of view. The students helped indicate where improvements could be made and they felt that as learners they were participating in and giving feedback on the teaching and learning process as well as on the content of the flexible supplement. The overwhelming response to the approach was that students liked it and were supportive of it being adopted on other programmes.

As a result of this research the flexible package for Introductory Economics will be offered to every student who takes this module in the next academic semester. Initially this will be as a supplement to help in the creation of a more flexible learning environment but eventually it will be offered as an alternative to the taught route.

One further current development of this research is that work is in process to place on-line an amended version of the flexible materials which, coupled with lecture notes and tutorial questions, will be available to all students of Introductory Economics from the second semester of the new academic year.

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