How can JiTT Improve Teaching and Learning in Economics?
By Helping Students Develop "Economic Thinking" Skills
A key learning goal for many economics instructors is to help students "think like an economist." But "thinking like an economist" often requires students to think in ways that are very different from what they are used to – and often means learning a whole new set of terminology as well. Here are some challenges that students face in learning to "think like an economist" and how JiTT can help overcome those challenges.
- Analyzing Concepts using Multiple Representations - (models, graphs, equations, words, data) - This is one of the biggest learning challenges for students new to economics.One of the most challenging aspects of economics is the ability to move among visual, analytical, mathematical, quantitative, and verbal representations of economic models and concepts. JiTT can help build facility with the transfer of these skills by providing immediate and frequent feedback on students' ability to work in each of these modalities. JiTT exercises can also be developed that ask students students work in all (or a subset) of these representations simultaneously.
- Learning (and using) a New Vocabulary - Simple misunderstandings of commonly-used words often trip students up in economics.Many terms have different (and very specific) meanings in economics than they do in general conversation (e.g. money, investment, capital) or are simply unfamiliar to students (e.g. fixed vs. marginal cost). Well-designed JiTT exercises can uncover student misunderstandings and give students practice in using these terms so that they don't hinder future learning in the course.
- Applying Abstract and Quantitative Reasoning - Students are often unfamiliar with the use of abstract and quantitative reasoning/writing skills and need practice applying these skills to economic concepts and problems.JiTT exercises that make economic concepts relevant to real-life experiences can help students link new abstract concepts to prior life experiences. Helping students link new concepts to previous knowledge helps to create deep and durable learning that can be transferred to new situations. In addition, JiTT exercises that give students practice using empirical evidence to support/reject hypotheses or using mathematical skills to carry out economic analysis will help instructors uncover student weaknesses in these areas that can be supported through in-class instruction or additional online resources. These types of exercises also provide an opportunity to illustrate how economists carry out their work and how economics differs from other disciplines.
- Uncovering Pre/Misconceptions - What students already "know" can affect their understanding of economics as much as what they don't know. Unfortunately, these pre/misconceptions are stubbornly persistent, so it's important to uncover them as early as possible.Students often have pre/misconceptions about how the economy works or the meanings of common economic terms that often remain hidden to instructors until it's too late. JiTT exercises can help uncover and directly confront these pre/conceptions while they are still fresh in students' minds.
By Overcoming General Student Learning ChallengesIn addition to economics-specific challenges, students in economics courses are often dealing with more general student learning challenges that can hinder their learning and overall academic success. Below is a list of some common student learning challenges and how JiTT can be used to address them.
- Difficulty with Reading and Using Textbooks - Students are often unable to determine which information is most important in a textbook chapter and how information in one section or chapter is related to another. As a result, student learning often remains at the "surface level".JiTT exercises can be used to help students focus on the most important elements/concepts in a chapter and intentionally link information in one section/chapter to other sections/chapters in the textbook. "Experts" regularly do this but "novice" learners need practice in structuring new information to create deep and durable knowledge.
- Fragmented Knowledge-Building - Students often think of concepts learned in a course as disconnected from their lives and previous concepts presented in the course. Effective JiTT exercises help students make these connections by asking them to link new information to previously-learned information or prior experiences in their lives.
- Transferring Knowledge to New Situations- This is one of the most difficult challenges in learning. As instructors, we see it when we change examples slightly on exams and students cannot answer the question because they don't fully understand the underlying concepts.JiTT exercises should provide students with multiple opportunities to apply concepts in new ways. Only in this way can students begin to develop facility with the underlying concepts, rather than focusing on surface characteristics.
- Dealing with Unstructured Information/Problems- Many real-world problems are not structured as neatly as those at the end of a textbook chapter or in publisher-provided online resources. Students have difficulty making the transition from classroom/textbook examples to real-world applications, which are unavoidably messy.JiTT exercises can help students practice separating relevant from irrelevant information, facts, and data. JiTT is especially effective in addressing this student learning challenge when combined with Context-Rich Problems.
- Ability to Self-Monitor the Learning Process - Helping students develop metacognitive, or reflective-learning, skills promotes deep, life-long learning, but is too often absent from our teaching activities.JiTT exercises that ask students to not only solve problems or answer questions but also explain how they solved the problem or came up with their answer help to promote metacognitive skills.