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Economics faculty share pedagogical innovations at prestigious conference

Economics faculty share pedagogical innovations at prestigious conference

Teaching stream faculty from Department of Economics, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, showcased their innovations in teaching and learning during the American Economics Association’s (AEA’s) annual meeting, held in January.

The AEA annual meeting was held in conjunction with the Allied Social Sciences Associations and is the most prestigious economics conference of the year. York faculty represented 10 per cent of the presentations, and discussed their work and teaching strategies with other interested economists during the three-hour Committee on Economic Education (CEE) poster session.

“It was wonderful to have our work recognized in this context and be able to share it with such a broad audience,” said Gordana Colby, the department’s first tenured teaching stream professor. “It speaks to the strength of our teaching team to see them all present their work at this meeting.”

Karen Bernhardt-Walther, a teaching stream assistant professor, was delighted by the opportunity to “shape the conversations around how we teach economics.” Tsvetanka Karagyozova, also a teaching stream assistant professor, added, “Being able to showcase our work at the largest conference for economists in the world was a great professional reward.”

Each presentation featured a different project currently underway in the department, and reflected the depth of pedagogical innovation of the teaching team across the entire undergraduate experience.

Colby, 2021 winner of York’s President’s University-Wide Teaching Award, exhibited the department’s successful meta-course – an introductory economics course that is rich in active learning techniques and co-ordinated through a community of practice using the same lectures, curriculum and resources across all sections. Each of the professors, as well as colleague Robert McKeown, is involved in teaching the introductory course, pioneered by Colby and Avi Cohen, University Professor of Economics.

“We summarized how to re-organize a course to allow active learning to take place,” Colby said. “We transformed the course and combined the sections to use a team-teaching model that draws on our individual expertise. Avi delivers asynchronous lectures and students meet for instructor-led tutorials that provide for more engagement and active learning. Because the administration of the course is centralized, we can focus our energies on creating a better experience for the students.

“The course has historically been plagued by a high drop-withdraw-fail (DWF) rate, but we’ve seen a 38 per cent decrease, while the attendance at lectures and tutorials is 80 per cent or higher. I’m excited to keep the momentum going and keep the course fresh for students.”

Karagyozova, whose expertise is in financial economics, presented a poster about digital e-learning modules. These were created as open educational resources and can serve as a model for others to follow. The poster reflected work she has done with colleagues Ida Ferrara, Edward Furman and Ricardas Zitikis for the Risk and Insurance Studies Centre.

These “interactive, self-contained e-modules … introduce students in first- and second-years to highly technical material,” she said. “They look like ebooks, but each topic is a standalone module with interactive components that you can activate with a click. Funded with a grant from eCampusOntario, they are part of the eCampusOntario Open Library that allows for democratization of knowledge and information. We want to have a course that is accessible to learners around the world.”

Karagyozova enjoys belonging to a community of practice that allows her to “exchange ideas and grow as an educator.”

“We sincerely hope to bring unique content to the department and to our students in terms of new pedagogical practices, redesign of existing courses and collaboration.”

Bernhardt-Walther presented her work on the Virtual Journal Club (VJC)  that she runs jointly with colleague Matthias Lang from Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. In its third year, it offers interested economics students opportunities to explore the frontiers of economic thinking through reading, discussion and reflection.

“What sets this course apart is that we focus entirely on helping students transition from consumers of economic analysis to producers of economic analysis,” Bernhardt-Walther explained. “Every week, we ask, ‘What’s the most meaningful way to engage with our student?’ It’s thrilling to see students evolve and mature and to guide them on that path.

“Students find what the VJC has to offer very valuable,” she said. “During the poster session, faculty from other universities were asking if their students could join our course – that was a big compliment for our work.”

For the future, she envisions teaching a wide selection of niche topics across institutions that might not make sense to offer at just one university. With projects such as the VJC, faculty are developing the technology and pedagogy for that future.

“Many of the teaching strategies we develop at York are relevant and valuable for large public universities throughout North America,” said Bernhardt-Walther. “We are fortunate to have such a great teaching team and the resources to make these projects happen.”