The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

Theme 1: Teaching and learning in a blended world

This was the first session of the Economics Network's 2021 Virtual Symposium, taking place on the morning of 16th June.


The session included:


Discussion board summaries

Managing teaching workloads (Dimitra Petropoulou, LSE, and Iain Long, Cardiff University)

  • For most of us, workloads have been overwhelming this past year. So much has changed in how we work that it seems to be heavier in every single dimension.
  • We have learned a lot from the experience, but uncertainty remains an issue as circumstances (and what universities expect from us) continue to evolve.
  • Key advice:
    • (i) it need not be perfect; probably 'good enough' is fine
    • (ii) repackage content you have where possible e.g. take examples out of slide content and cover in the live session
    • (iii) think of ways to do things live rather than preparing slides in advance e.g. for solving a problem or past paper why not use a digital whiteboard; sometimes a chat about economics ideas goes further
    • (iv) try and choose a modality that works both in person and online, as circumstances change
    • (v) try and plan over the summer if you can
  • Technology can help, such as collective feedback on video rather than individual.
  • Get students involved e.g. we introduced certificates for excellence in knowledge sharing - awarded to those who answered the most queries of other students on the discussion forum. This was effective in stimulating discussion but had a by-product of reducing our workload.

Talking to colleagues about blended learning (Caroline Elliott, University of Warwick)

  • The diversity of levels of familiarity amongst colleagues with technology enhanced teaching, prior to the start of the 20/21 academic year.
  • Different departmental/institutional approaches to the support of online teaching, for example departmental support versus centralised university support.
  • The benefits of official/unofficial technology in teaching champions in a department.
  • The popularity of informal, online, scheduled chats over coffee (or any other drink) to discuss issues related to teaching and the move to greater online teaching and learning.
  • Recognition that there were 'star teachers' who embraced the move to online teaching and learning amongst both teaching and research, and teaching focused colleagues.

Discussion boards (Ralf Becker, University of Manchester)

  • Tie the Discussion Board into the remainder of your unit (Post questions yourself for students to respond to and discuss student responses in live sessions, pick up good student questions from the discussion board in live sessions).
  • Have an organisational principle for your discussion board (separate forums for each topic and/or tags by which posts can be filtered). If you don’t discussion boards can become overwhelming. Also help students to write meaningful titles!
  • Do guide students to the discussion board for all content related questions. Do not answer to emails which merely have content questions. Copy and paste the email into a new (or existing) discussion board post and say “A student asked … Here is my answer …”.
  • Form clear expectations of what students can expect and should behave on the discussion board. Here is an example:

Teaching large groups of students (Mike Reynolds, University of Leeds and Steve Proud, University of Bristol)

  • Lots of variety in how large lectures have been delivered online.
  • Concerns about engagement with content, but some positives as students seem more willing to ask questions online than they do in face-to-face lectures.
  • Experience with the use of breakout rooms in large lectures has been mixed.