Using Just-in-Time Teaching in Economics

Initial Publication Date: January 7, 2011

Original module on using JiTT in economics developed by Scott Simkins
With assistance from Gregor Novak, Marcelo Clerici-Arias, and Rae Jean Goodman

hands on keyboard

JiTT was originally developed for physics education but has now been adapted for use in many different disciplines, including economics. JiTT is particularly useful for increasing student engagement in economics courses, where lecturing remains the dominant pedagogy. JiTT can also be used in combination with other teaching practices
students working
such as classroom experiments, seminar discussions, case studies, and cooperative learning to increase their impact on student learning.

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Using JiTT in Economics - An Example

Just-in-Time Teaching focuses on improving student learning through the use of brief questions (JiTT exercises) posted online prior to an upcoming class. Students' responses to these questions, submitted a few hours before class, allow instructors to gather information about student understanding of course concepts "just in time" and develop activities for this class session that target students' actual learning needs.

How is JiTT Different from Quizzes and Homework Assignments?
A key benefit of JiTT is its "real time" impact on teaching and learning. Quizzes and homework assignments may uncover students' difficulties in understanding economic concepts or ideas, but often it is not until after the class has moved on to new material. JiTT helps to address learning gaps in real time, while the ideas are still fresh in students' minds and in-class activities can be developed to provide additional practice and formative assessment.

A Sample JiTT Exercise on Marginal and Fixed Costs

The following exercise is posted online: Last year my wife and I made plans to take our family to the beach for the Labor Day weekend, accompanied by another family. Each family paid a non-refundable beach rental payment of $350 a couple of months prior to the trip. As Labor Day approached we watched the weekend weather report with growing interest. The weather forecaster was predicting rain for the entire weekend! As we packed up the car to go to the beach, I asked my wife if perhaps we should stay home for the weekend, rather than going to the beach. After all, we had recently moved and needed to unpack (and paint). She responded, "We've already paid $350 for the beach rental, of course we're going to the beach!"

Was my wife's argument "rational," in an economic sense? Why or why not?
Student Responses
In-Class Collaborative Learning Activity

For this exercise I might include the following questions with the four student responses listed above (or hand out on a separate piece of paper). These questions then form the basis for an in-class collaborative learning activity.
Which of these responses comes closest to the argument that an economist would make? After selecting one of the responses below, how might you improve the answer, based on your understanding of the material for today?

In four-person collaborative learning groups, have each person develop a response to the questions, then share with the group. Based on the individual contributions, have each group develop a consensus answer to the questions, then have each group (or a sample) report out to the full class. Assess (or have other groups assess) whether students are able to display the correct economic reasoning in their responses.

Finally, have each student develop a response to the following question and hand in:

After completing this exercise, what questions do you still have? What concepts are still unclear?
Watch Dr. Mark Maier, Glendale Community College (CA), discuss the use of Just-in-Time Teaching in economics in this brief video (Quicktime Video 6.5MB Sep16 10). Maier and Dr. Scott Simkins (North Carolina A&T State University) led a National Science Foundation project adapting JiTT, originally developed for physics education, for use in economics (DUE 0088303)

For more information about the Just-in-Time Teaching teaching process...

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JiTT Improves Student Learning in Economics

JiTT focuses student attention on important course concepts, increases time on task, and gets students prepared for class. Classroom research carried out by Simkins and Maier (2004) showed that JiTT had a modest, statistically-significant effect on cognitive learning outcomes in introductory economics after controlling for a variety of other demographic and academic variables. Also, students rated JiTT among the most effective learning tools in the course. In addition to economics, JiTT has been shown to increase student learning in a variety of other disciplines (Simkins and Maier, 2010).

Some Ways that JiTT Benefits Student Learning:

  • "The JiTT assignments prepared me for class. It allowed me to read ahead so that I would fully understand what would be covered in class the next period."
  • "... I was familiar with discussed information and that enabled me to understand the concepts better."
  • "The assignments kept me up to date with the material covered in class. They really made me think outside the classroom of things I'd normally not bother with."
For more information about how JiTT improves student learning in economics...

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Developing Effective JiTT Exercises in Economics

The key to successful JiTT implementation is the development of effective JiTT questions. What makes an effective JiTT question in economics? That depends upon the student learning outcomes the instructor has in mind. Two types of learning outcomes are listed below, with suggestions for effective JiTT questions.

  • Knowledge-related Learning Outcomes - What do I want my students to know at the end of this course?
Knowledge-related JiTT questions might ask students to relate new terminology to their lives, summarize economic data or graphs, or explain the relevance of economics-related historical policies.
  • Skill-related Learning Outcomes - What do I want my students to be able to do at the end of this course?
Skill-related JiTT questions might ask students to practice writing and critical thinking skills using economics examples and concepts, use statistical analysis to support or reject economic hypotheses, or articulate economic concepts using multiple representations (graphically, analytically, mathematically, and verbally).

Maier and Simkins (2009) outline a variety of JiTT question-types that are particularly applicable to economics. For more information on writing effective JiTT questions in economics, including a variety of examples, see:

Also see ready-to-use examples of JiTT exercises in economics. These can easily be adopted or adapted for your course.

For more information on developing effective JiTT Questions...

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Combining JiTT with Teaching Practices You're Already Using

JiTT is a flexible teaching tool, easily combined with teaching practices you may already be using in your economics courses. See how JiTT can increase the impact of these teaching practices:

  • Interactive Lecture - JiTT exercises provide insights on student learning gaps that can be followed-up and further assessed in the next class period.
  • Cooperative Learning - Responses to JiTT questions provide a starting point for in-class cooperative learning exercises.
  • Classroom Experiments - Use JiTT exercises to have students predict the outcome of in-class experiments that will take place in the upcoming class period.
  • Teaching with the Case Method - JiTT exercises help students come to class prepared for in-depth discussions of case topics and provide a window into students' understanding of case issues prior to the actual discussion of the case in class.
  • Using Classroom Response Systems - Use student responses to JiTT questions to develop in-class "clicker questions" that directly address student learning gaps identified in the the responses.
For more information on using JiTT to enhance classroom teaching...

Learning from Pedagogical Innovations in STEM Disciplines
JiTT was first developed to promote student learning in physics. JiTT can also be combined with a variety of other innovative teaching practices originally developed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines (and adapted for use in economics):

  • Interactive Lecture Demonstrations - JiTT exercises help uncover student learning gaps that can be used to develop targeted Interactive Lecture Demonstration activities.
  • Context-Rich Problems - The real-life scenarios used in context-rich problems are ideal for use as JiTT exercises.
See Simkins and Maier (2009, 2010) for more information on how these STEM-developed teaching innovations can be adapted for economics instruction.

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