'Dinosaur' economists must lose 'dismal' image

June 16, 2006

Economics departments need to review old-fashioned teaching methods and shake off the discipline's image as stuffy and boring, a report says.

A number of academics who took part in a telephone survey admitted to being "a bit of a dinosaur" in the way they taught economics. Students interviewed in the study said their tutors' approach reinforced a perception that the subject was out of touch with the modern world.

The survey, commissioned by interactive learning company The Enterprise Library, found that the resources used to teach economics were often restricted to handouts, textbooks, projector presentations and tutorial-based learning.

Growing class sizes and the challenge of trying to tailor teaching to students with a widening range of abilities and interests are partly to blame, the study says.

John Sloman, director of the Economics Network and author of the foreword to the report, said the survey confirmed that students needed a more active learning process if they were to become and remain engaged with the subject.

He said: "It is a challenge for economics lecturers and school teachers to show just how relevant economics is. Students are more motivated on courses that relate economics theories to real world problems."

Liam Graham,from University College London sums up in the report the problems faced by many economics lecturers. He says: "I use a traditional teaching method because, when you're lecturing as many as 250 students, the opportunities for sophisticated teaching and learning techniques are limited. Ideally, more interactive tools would be introduced into economics teaching to enable me to offer more one-to-one attention and personalised feedback."

Another lecturer, who did not wish to be named, says: "I would admit to being a bit of a dinosaur in terms of learning resources. My lectures are old-fashioned in as much as they are talk based with slides, bullet points, charts and pictures."

Economics students report that these teaching methods are helping to perpetuate the subject's tired image. A typical view is expressed by Nan Yang, a final-year economics student at Kingston University, who says: "Many students think it's boring and more difficult to understand than other courses."

Danicla Santos, an student at Lancaster University, adds: "Theories are fine for explaining general trends, but some of them were thought up in the 19th century, so if you can't see how they apply now they won't make sense."

Robert Weever, who is studying economics at Brighton University, says: "I want to see fewer dusty books and more case studies to bring the subject to life."

The report suggests that to make economics teaching more personalised and interactive, there needs to be a greater demarcation of resources for students of different abilities. There also needs to be a greater effort to dispel the perception that the subject is "purely about making money".

Rupert Gatti, fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, says: "It is important that economics puts emphasis on how it relates to everyday life, and the discipline's importance to society and general policymaking, as well as to business."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

TOP TIPS TO ENRICH TEACHING

* Economics should react to the demands and expectations of students by using more interactive methods of teaching

* Use more real-life examples to bring an up-to-date focus on theory and mathematical context

* Put emphasis on the transferable skills that economics students gain

* Try to ensure that the subject's core theories and concepts are easily applicable to the widest possible range of business and social scenarios

* Show prospective students how relevant economics is to everyday life, to dispel the subject's "boring" image.

Source:The Enterprise Library

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