Student-Centered Learning Activities in a Basic Economics Course

Article excerpt

Abstract

Economics remains an abstract subject to many undergraduate students. New approaches to teaching suggest that student-centered learning activities, in contrast to traditional lecture methods, can increase student interest and enhance their success. The author has developed and used several such activities in an introductory economics course to complement the traditional lecture material. The activities include guest speakers from the community area, videos that depict historical economic events, a stock market tracking assignment, and some practical cost, revenue, and profit simulations. Results of student surveys and written class comments on these student-centered learning activities are reported for two classes. They are generally positive, but student responses indicate they want such activities to count significantly in the course grade.

Introduction

General Economics is a course taught at a two-year agricultural technical college. This basic course is included as a part of the curriculum in all the associate of applied science programs at the college. The major reasons cited for making economics a required course is the need for students to understand the macroeconomic functioning of the national and world economy and the appropriate roles of government in economic affairs. In addition the microeconomic principles developed in the course support further coursework in marketing, business and agribusiness management.

The purpose of this article is to describe some student-centered learning (SCL) activities that were incorporated into the basic economics course as a complement to the traditional lectures and to discuss the reactions of the students as well as the instructor's experiences with the success of these learning activities.

Several recent studies have shown that courses in economics can be effective in fulfilling the goal of economic literacy. Gleason and Van Scoyoc (1995), in the study of adult economic literacy in the USA, reported that general education level and formal economics training were positively correlated with test scores measuring economic literacy. Walstad (1997), in a study of the effects of economic knowledge on public opinion of economic issues, reported a positive and long-term impact of a college course in economics on the survey respondent's level of economic knowledge. he also reported that economic knowledge may be the most critical factor determining public opinion on economic issues.

Classroom instruction and improvement in teaching are receiving increased attention in colleges and universities (Dare, 2001). In particular, an approach to teaching that emphasizes student learning as a complement to traditional lecture style content delivery is gaining importance and acceptance. The term student-centered learning (SCL) is often used to describe this pedagogy. More commonly in the literature, it is referred to as active or cooperative learning (Marzano, 1992; Silberman, 1996; and Stage, et al. 1998).

Becker and Watts (2001) reported the results of an extensive survey of undergraduate programs offering courses in economics. While they noted increased interest in and emphasis on teaching, the overall survey results indicated a very large part of undergraduate economic instruction is still heavily focused on the chalkboard as a delivery medium and the lecture/discussion method as the teaching mode. The authors lamented the fact that newer concepts such as SCL and increased use of new technology in the classroom are only slowly being adopted by college teachers of economics. They termed the current circumstance "chalk and talk" which has become a buzzword for the status quo in economics classroom instruction.

Caropreso and Haggerty (2000) have recently published a cooperative learning model for teaching introductory economics. They advocate weaving group work and SCL activities into course lessons so that occasional instructor lectures become the change of pace rather than the norm of the class. …