Use of WinEcon/MathEcon in teaching Maths for Economics
WinEcon has been widely used in teaching Economics courses since its introduction in 1994. I have integrated the use of a selected subset of WinEcon screens (MathEcon) into a module entitled 'Using Maths in Economics'. An evaluation involving observation, interviews and student focus groups was carried out by Lim (2000). His findings, available at http://www.webecon.bris.ac.uk/evaluation/lim2000.doc, form the basis of this case study.
The 150 students on the course are very heterogeneous with respect to their mathematical abilities and prior knowledge of economic concepts and ideas. The department addresses this problem by integrating MathEcon into the course and allocating its students into tutorial groups at two levels (students with and without A level mathematics). The module consists of 11 lectures and 11 tutorials led by tutors who are mostly research students. Of the tutorials, 5 are computing sessions conducted with WinEcon (with online quiz and virtual workbook) and 6 are non-ICT ones. The handouts for lectures can be accessed from the course website.
New concepts are introduced in the lectures before the tutorials. Scheduled tutorials are compulsory. Two groups are combined for each computing session, giving an average of 20 students. During the computing sessions students work through the web worksheet that guides them through the MathEcon screens and the quiz. The worksheet provides a structure for students by setting out the aims of the lesson, followed by the tasks to be completed. The online interactive quiz is designed with the CASTLE toolkit to allow students to test themselves on all the topics discussed in the lectures, tutorials and MathEcon. Students are encouraged to work at their own pace and according to their own learning style. They could refer to their lecture notes, course handouts and textbooks. Some students take notes as they work through the WinEcon screens.
Lim reports that "During the computing sessions, the tutors were observed to engage in one-to-one interactions with individual students." He comments "MathEcon played a crucial role in such conversations by:
- Creating an environment that allowed tutors to engage in one-to-one conversations with individual students, while the other students worked their way through MathEcon.
- Providing a platform for discussion and interaction between tutors and students.
- Serving as a cognitive tool in these conversations - visual representation and animation, as well as description, feedback and reinforcement of concepts."
Of students asked to use WinEcon, about 90% do so willingly and the great majority of these reported very favourably on the courseware. 72% of students described their impression of software as interesting or very interesting. Difficulties reported in using WinEcon related more to the difficulty in getting access to a computer and to the time commitments in using the package, rather than to difficulties in using software itself.