Parama Chaudhury and Christian Spielmann, both UCL, write about the First Year Challenge, which has been shortlisted in the “Outstanding Digital Innovation” category of the Times Higher Education annual awards. 

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-07-29-08One of the highlights of the start of the academic year at UCL is the First Year Challenge (FYC) – we are thrilled that the FYC has been shortlisted in the Outstanding Digital Innovation category of the Times Higher Education annual awards. The FYC is a co-curricular digital research project for first year undergraduates studying economics based on the first unit of The CORE Project’s ebook, The Economy. They start on the project on their very first day at UCL – before any lectures! – and over the next two weeks, produce a three minute video or podcast on the theme of “capitalism, growth and inequality”.

The project serves many purposes. Our students, many of whom are new to London as well as to UCL, become a bit more familiar with their surroundings and the group work provides their first opportunity to get to know their peers. Crucially, however, it also gives them a taste of learning and researching independently – which is often a new experience for many new undergraduates, yet a skill they need to master.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-07-22-07 Students are given detailed instructions, GPS co-ordinates and a photo of the meeting point, and asked to make their way to the location independently. At the location each group had to figure out a link between their meeting point and the theme of the project. Some links are straightforward (for example, Charles Dickens’ house on Doughty Street and the link to his work on child labour and poverty in Victorian England, or Florence Nightingale’s workplace on Harley Street and the link to her contribution in health and statistics). Others are more challenging, like the library of the London School of Economics. This is linked to Beatrice and Sidney Webb, the founders of the School and of the Fabian Society, but could also be linked to many other researchers working on growth and inequality. Another tricky location is Tavistock Square, which was the site of the 7/7 bombings in 2005, but also the address of the British Medical Association.

Our lecturers and teaching assistants, other academics and EconFilms assess the submissions based on the accuracy and substance of the content, its connection to the assigned theme, and overall production quality. The 15 shortlisted submissions are showcased in the annual undergraduate research conference, while the best submissions are awarded Amazon vouchers for a token amount. The best submissions have been posted on the FYC webpage.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-07-22-40The FYC does not count as part of the final mark in the introductory course. We do, however, use some of the FYC output from the previous year in the first lecture to motivate the discussion about growth and inequality. This also shows students that the project is a way to produce learning materials for other students.

This year’s FYC starts on 26 September. We will be encouraging our students to tweet about it and will also tweet links relevant to the project – so look out for #UCLFirstYearChallenge on Twitter.

More detail about the FYC and its evaluation and adaptability to other contexts were published in the Journal of Economics Teaching in June 2016. Contact Christian (c.spielmann@ucl.ac.uk) or Parama (p.chaudhury@ucl.ac.uk) if you would like to know more.