Follow up to "Students' assignment as a piece of economics journalism"

Contact: Judith Piggott
Principal Lecturer in Economics, Oxford Brookes University
jmpiggott@brookes.ac.uk
Published July 2003
We asked Judith for an evaluative follow-up to last year's case study on student assignments. Here is her response.

Having used the idea of asking students to write and article for the Economist in the previous year, I wanted to do something similar in this past academic year (obviously with a different topic) – but this time to get more student feedback on it.

I gave out the topic in the module guide in the first week of term and then a couple of weeks later asked the students to complete a brief questionnaire. 29 students responded.

Firstly I asked if they had read through the coursework and all but one had (there is always one!) Then they were asked if the instructions were very clear, clear, quite clear or confusing. All found them clear. Similarly with regard to the regulations (eg hand in times etc), all were found to be clear.

Finally I asked were the students looking forward to doing the assignment and why? 8 were looking forward to it very much, 11 looking forward, 5 indifferent and 5 were not looking forward to it. The comments on “why” are listed below, but most appeared to be looking forward to it as it sounded interesting, was relevant and some liked the idea of pretending to be a journalist. The comments from those “indifferent” were more diverse and often reflected a fear of Economics as a subject or a worry about workload rather than the set assignment. Only one mentioned the fear of trying to write as a journalist.

A few weeks later, after the work had been handed in but before the marks had been given out , a second questionnaire was issued - by this time some more students had joined the course, so raising the number to 37.

There was little change in the comments on instructions – 31 felt they were easy to follow, and 5 not very easy (and one didn’t answer). The interest in the assignment was maintained with 5 finding it very interesting, 23 interesting and 8 “alright” – none commented that it was not interesting.

All found the assignment challenging – 5 very challenging, 21 challenging and 10 “alright”. Similarly there was a positive feeling concerning the relevance – 7 felt it was very relevant, 23 relevant and 5 “alright” (and l felt it was not at all relevant!).

Finally 28 felt they would like to do a similar assignment in another module, 8 said they would not.

Comments given tended to centre a lot on the time the reading took and how hard it was to cover the subject within the word limit. Only one mentioned a problem with regard to writing in the correct style and another that style dominated for them. One comment mentioned a concern over how to include the economic theory necessary (and this was voiced during the module directly to me, as well.)

My comments

Last year the students struggled with the idea of writing an article and with the style such an article should take. To help with this, we worked on more Economist articles in seminars – pointing out explicitly the style they were using. Also the book “The Economist Style Guide” was put on the reading list and helped with this. Obviously we have to be careful that style does not dominate but only one mentioned this.

The tight word limit was commented on but I still feel this is an integral part of the assignment – to keep to the point and be concise.

The inclusion of some economic theory did cause problems for some – how to write in a journalistic style but also including the requisite level of theory worried them. This year I intend to look out for articles which more explicitly bring in a theoretical background.

As an assignment students liked its relevance and novelty but underestimated the amount of research which goes into a small article – another valuable lesson I think!

The Appendix to this article contains a breakdown of questionnaire responses

References

  • “The Economist Style Guide” (2001) 7th edition, Profile Books

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