Promoting Problem-Solving Based Independent Learning in Macroeconomics

Contact: Dr David McCausland
University of Aberdeen
d.mccausland@abdn.ac.uk
Published April 2001

I think that student's competence in problem solving techniques, particularly in the context of the Mundell-Fleming model, is very important for their further economics studies. It is difficult to achieve it in formal lecture and tutorial settings, but could be developed by repeated exposure to the techniques of model building and practice. There is a strong pedagogic reason for developing independent learning strategies. A successful bid for internal funding allowed us to make the necessary investment in time and IT resources to initiate such an innovation and our department has since made the commitment to fund it thereafter.

With around 100 students, the project was implemented in the 2nd Semester 1999 /2000 and helped students develop skills for independent learning in three distinct ways:

  • Developing problem solving skills through problem-based learning activities. Students' independent learning was supported by three laboratory sessions, where demonstrators were on hand to provide help and support.
  • Augmenting lectures with Web-based materials, which allowed students to develop information skills that are hard to achieve in more formal lecture and tutorial environments.
  • Structuring students' use of IT in an effective and appropriate way that can enhance their independent learning skills. There was strong support for this from the department's Employers Liaison Group.

The project forms part of a staged introduction of innovative teaching throughout the pre-honours programme. In first year courses, the department has made a firm and sustained commitment to enhancing students' learning experiences using the Web, both for information and for assessment, using interactive multimedia tools (WinEcon, etc.), and other IT based initiatives (see case study on Computer-aided assessment in the first year Microeconomics). This project permits the continuation of students' learning development in these respects into their second year. It therefore complements and extends existing provision. It involves:

  • Computer-based case study using Excel, which is submitted electronically and assessed using Question Mark (CAA).
  • Independent learning material consisting of Web notes and use of the interactive dynamic learning package LiveEcon, which is currently being developed and put on trial at Aberdeen (and for which I am acting as a consultant).

The evaluation process includes computer-aided assessment (CAA) and the Web based questionnaire. CAA was used to evaluate the specific skills students develop during this course and builds on our experiences with CAA in the first year Microeconomics. Students complete a Web-based questionnaire, which helps to establish their views about independent learning and CAA. Their answers reveals broad satisfaction with the way in which the project was implemented and organised. Most students didn't have any technical problems with CAA (less than 13% had some problems). The LiveEcon package was strongly supported as a learning tool, 87% responding positively to the LiveEcon workshop. Comments like "the whole programme was a big boost in understanding the workings of macroeconomics" and "everything was well organised" sum up the general mood of the class.

As for the future we would expect that CAL and CAA would be phased into the remaining pre-honours course in the next academic year, in line with the provision already featured in the rest of the programme. It is likely also that there will be further development of Web notes and perhaps more extensive use of the interactive dynamic learning package LiveEcon.