Teaching Quantitative Classes at the London School of Economics

Contact: Carlo Rosa
London School of Economics and Political Science
c.rosa@lse.ac.uk
Published November 2004
[This is an excerpt from my talk given the 15th October 2004 at LSE about "Sharing my experience of teaching quantitative classes"]

In this case study I present my experience of being a class teacher of quantitative classes (EC 201 – Microeconomics Principles I and EC 319 – Mathematical Economics) at the LSE. In particular, I am going to concentrate my discussion on three main areas: English, classes and students.

English

Obviously, a natural premise of teaching is that students have to clearly and fully understand their class teacher. This is not always the case for teachers whose first language is not English. There are many underlying reasons for that, such as a strong accent, speaking too quickly (pausing is very important) or too softly (but, at the other extreme, being careful not to sound aggressive!). The LSE provides a lot of support about this issue through personalized training sessions organized by the School's Language Centre.

Classes

Every weekly class lasts fifty minutes and many times this is not enough to cover all the material I have ex-ante planned. In these cases, I recommend prioritizing, that is being selective and focusing most of the class on techniques and methods rather than on algebra. In particular, at the beginning of every class, I try to identify and isolate the problems that students found most difficult when working at home. I usually ask students directly about their main difficulties in doing the homework. Sometimes, such as in EC 201, the WebCT provides very useful feedback on the student's homework performance. In order to use time efficiently, I also find integrating my explanation with handouts critically important. In my opinion, providing structure to the class enhances students' understanding of the whole material that is covered. On the one hand, I suggest starting the class with an overview of what is going to be analysed and finishing with a summary of the key topics discussed. On the other, it is useful to highlight not only the technical and theoretical material (typical of a quantitative course) but also the real world applications.

Students

Being friendly with students is extremely important (and, also, free!). First, I suggest learning students' names as soon as possible. In this regard, the "class register" is an important resource because it contains both students' photos and names.

Second, be approachable and contactable. Ideally, you should provide your e-mail in your first class and, then, check it on a daily basis. Clearly, as a by-product, it is essential that you always promptly reply to all students' e-mails you have received.

Thirdly (and most important) be positive: both encouragement and support are not only a very useful instrument in enhancing students' performance, but also quite often sufficient to solve any kind of problem students may encounter.

Finally, I conclude this note providing some advice on the use of the board. First, do not turn permanently turn your back on students: it is not only impolite, but also inefficient, because you are not able to pick-up "signals" sent from students about their feelings with respect to the pace and content of your classes. Second, use clear and tidy handwriting. And last but not least, draw diagrams slowly (in order for you to give time to students both to think and understand the material).

Glossary

(from LSE website, accessed 15/10/2004)

LSE for you
An online web environment which contains personal information such as pay information, emergency contact details etc and also contains class registers and photographs of students in your class(es).
Class Mailer
This facility is to enable teachers and academic department administrators to send short messages to their students. It is possible for you to generate a lot of emails using this software.
WebCT
WebCT is the LSE "virtual learning environment", an enclosed web space, which may contain course materials, announcements, electronic readings, and other such course resources, as well as providing an additional form of student-to-teacher and student-to-student communication. A growing number of courses now use WebCT to supplement (not replace) normal face to face contact

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