Employability Skills: History of Economic Thought at University of East Anglia

Introduction

History of Economic Thought (HET) is an optional spring semester module open to students registered for any undergraduate degree in Economics who are enrolled in either Year 2 or 3. The module articulates in 2 hours’ lecture per week and 4 seminar meetings, starting in Week 5, and taking place every second week. In lecturers, core concepts are explained, and the class reads and comments together on the original work of economic thinkers. In seminars, students discuss pre-assigned readings with the lecturer and are encouraged to acquire more autonomy over the critical thinking process. The syllabus for the module covers authors such as: Petty, Quesnay, Smith, Ricardo, Marx, Bentham, Mill, Jevons, Menger, Hayek, Keynes, Friedman, Veblen, McCloskey, and Sudgen. Further insights about the thinking of the Physiocrats, Mercantilists, Marginalists, Austrians, Neoclassicals, and Chicago School are also considered.

Assessment

The innovative elements of the module are embedded in the assessment structure. The module is assessed through coursework only (no final exam). The assessment components, and their contribution to the development of employability skills, can be summarised as follows:

Video-presentation (weight=30%)

The class is divided in groups of 6-8 members. The task consists of developing a presentation on authors/topics related to Classical Economics (up to Karl Marx) to be submitted as a video of a duration no longer than 10 minutes. Groups must suggest their own topic; they are encouraged to compare and contrast two authors and/or theories, focussing on a specific aspect (e.g. value, surplus, prices, accumulation, etc.) Groups might consult with the lecturer on their topic of choice, and receive guidance, but they conduct the literature review and analysis autonomously. Videos can be produced as screencasts, or as recordings of students presenting in a teaching space.

Employability: students develop team-working skills and ownership in the division of tasks (research, editing, speaking); students also develop video recording and editing skills, which are increasingly in demand to develop video CVs, as well as practice video-interviews.

Critical Essay (weight=40%)

Students are invited to write a 2000-word critical essay on a topic of their choice, covering any topic from Marginalism to current times. Students can cover material not included in the syllabus. The lecturer outlines two sample topics for students who cannot suggest one of their own. However, students are informed that originality in the choice of the topic is rewarded. They are instructed on how to use the Scopus database to run their literature review; independent surveying of additional resources is expected.

Employability: students are expected to develop independence in formulating an essay topic, surveying the literature and being critical in addressing the question they chose for themselves; critical-thinking and originality are rewarded. Students receive copious feedback on their essay, which they are supposed to assimilate and act upon in preparation for the final piece of assessment.

Evaluative Conversation (weight=30%)

After receiving their essay feedback, students are invited to an evaluative conversation (viva) in the lecturer’s office. Conversations are video-recorded for quality assurance and students can retrieve their conversation from Blackboard to review it. In the first part of the conversation, students are asked to respond to the points raised in the essay feedback, expanding on topics covered, clarifying unclear points, and linking their manuscript to the material covered in the syllabus. In the second part of the conversation, students are asked questions about any of the topics covered in the syllabus. They are asked to make links, criticise theories, and respond to points made by the lecturer. Each conversation is scheduled to last 15-20 minutes. Students receive feedback after the videos and feedback have been moderated. Marking criteria include: the ability to respond to feedback, confidence and clarity in delivery, knowledge of the topics covered, and flexibility in moving from topic to topic highlighting similarities and differences.

Employability: this assessment aims to replicate what is experienced in a job-interview environment, where candidates are exposed to questions to which they must give a response immediately and under pressure. This assessment also tests the development of critical skills, including the ability to see the ‘greater picture’ and to use feedback to improve their own performance.

Evaluation

The module has run for the academic year 2017-18, and it is currently running for 2018-19. A full evaluation will be conducted at the end of the current academic year. Evidence from 2017-18 shows that students perceived the conversation as novel and challenging but believed that their performance was exactly as they expected it to be. The module as a whole received very positive student evaluations, with open-ended comments praising the originality of the assessment methods and the breadth of topics, which empowered students to embrace theories outside mainstream Economics.

Skills developed by this activity

The main skills that this activity explicitly helps students to develop:

Communication 

 

Writing for academic audience 

X

Writing for non-academic audience 

 

Presentation to academic audience 

X

Presentation to non-academic audience 

 

Application to real world 

 

Applying economics to real world context 

 

Solving policy or commercial problems 

 

Simplifying complex ideas/information to make them accessible to wide audience 

 

Data analysis 

 

Sourcing and organising quantitative data 

 

Analysing and interpreting quantitative data 

 

Fluency with excel 

 

Fluency with statistical/econometric packages 

 

Collaboration 

 

Team-working with economists 

X

Collaboration with non-economists 

 

Wider employability skills 

 

Flexibility 

 

Creativity and imagination 

 

Independent thinking 

X

Can do attitude 

X

Reliability 

 

Resilience 

 

Commercial awareness 

 

Time management 

X

Project management/organisational skills 

 
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