Applying METAL resources in a Level 1 module

Sheila Dutton
University of Portsmouth
Published January 2010

I used the METAL Project resources in my Introduction to Quantitative Economics course. This is a 10 credit unit for Level 1 Economics students who do not have A-Level or AS-Level Mathematics.

Films

I initially included a film at the end of a lecture that was given to 100 or so students. The lecture covered optimization of a function of a single variable and included an application on minimising Average Cost. The film shown was Introduction to Differentiation – How large should a University be? and I felt that it would reinforce the lecture material.

The response was mixed. About half of the students found the film too slow, too boring and said that it did not help them to understand the subject matter. They did not want more films to be included in the lecture programme. On further probing, it became apparent that this group of students were the more able students. They indicated to me that they understood the mathematical material beforehand and saw the film as being a waste of time. The remainder of the group found the film held their attention and a good proportion said that they found it helpful in understanding the subject matter. They were happy to have more films included in the lecture programme but only now and again. A number of students found the film too difficult and confusing. An international student thought the films were a good idea because she was able to view them several times over in her own time as she sometimes found it difficult to keep up in the lecture due to a language issue.

Given the response, I choose to introduce additional films in the surgery hour and not the lectures. The surgery hour is optional and is for those students who find the material particularly difficult and would like extra help. There are usually about 8 to 15 students who attend. Three films were shown during the sessions: Linear Functions-Budget Lines; Solving Simultaneous Equations – French Wine; and Taxes and Subsidies. This smaller group of students found these films both interesting and useful in helping them understand the material. They preferred the fact that we could discuss the films and were able to relate them to their seminar exercises, unlike the situation when the film was shown to the larger lecture group of students. They would not like to see the films replacing the lecture and seminar programme but appreciated that they were an additional source of information and one they could access easily in their own time.

Question Bank

I demonstrated how to access/use the question bank and the wide range of topics available. The students were asked to try out the learning resource in their own time. The response was very positive from those students who had tried it out. They thought it was useful in helping them improve their knowledge. They liked the fact that they got instructions on how to answer the questions they had inputted incorrectly and the way the topics were divided into small blocks of questions. They indicated to me that they may use it when revising for their end of semester examination.

Again, it was the weaker students who tried out the question bank and offered feedback.

Overall, the site was very straightforward to use. Students did not express any difficulties with accessing the resources.

I would recommend METAL to students as an additional learning resource but not necessarily incorporate it formally into my teaching programme. I would particularly encourage the weaker students to use the resources available. These students engaged with the material more fully and found the site to be a useful addition to lectures and seminars.