“We see from our teaching workshops that the various departments that use CORE are being very creative with the resources,” says Alvin Birdi of the teaching and learning committee. “We see different lengths and types of course, we see them using the resources selectively and we see very different approaches to delivering the material in class.”
Most of CORE’s authors and volunteers are teachers themselves, and so we understand that not every teacher has the power, resources or the time to make radical changes to the way they teach. Also, we’re conscious that for techniques such as flipping the classroom, there is not yet definitive research. But, right from the start, we wanted our material to be as adaptable as possible to support those teachers who do yearn to innovate.
Sometimes this is in response to the special requirement of a course or an unusual cohort of students. Sometimes, it’s just because some of you have a vision to improve the way economics is taught. Below, three examples.
“Our online course really emphasises market failures, asymmetry market power and the policies used to address them,” says Jennifer Miller, Assistant Professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy, “Our students are public administration students. They are not choosing our programme to earn a lot of money, they choose it to change the world.”
Miller’s 45 Master of Public Administration students study CORE as part of a distance-learning degree provided for US expats working or serving overseas, in many locations and time zones. This makes it almost impossible to have group online lectures, so Miller has used the CORE material to create interactive video lectures in Adobe Captivate, and problem sets that can be distributed using Moodle. “They are self-grading, the students can attempt them as many times as they want up to the deadline,” she says, “in Moodle I can see which students are completing units, whether they are answering the questions correctly, and if they are engaging with the material.”
Students are assigned into self-guided learning communities of five, and they hold self-hosted sessions each week. “I assign discussion questions from the CORE text with the idea they discuss those, write up their responses, and get feedback. It gets around the scheduling problems,” she adds.
Although this has been about 500 hours of course preparation work for Miller, she finds the CORE text perfect for a group of mature students. “As someone who went back to get a PhD myself in mid-career, I found the traditional way of teaching economics contradicted my life experience… I’m teaching people who are mid-career, and using simplified assumptions and models that contradicted the students’ life experience would be difficult.”
“A big part of CORE for me has been not just changing a textbook, but changing the way that we teach,” says Marco Gundermann, Programme Director, Economics suite of programmes at CMU. His 50 students spend the week before the lecture studying that week’s unit, and lecture time has been replaced by workshops. About 40% of his students are from a non-traditional educational background, having been through a foundation course. “In
“In workshops I pick out the most difficult parts of the unit to discuss, create examples, and ask the students questions,” he explains, “also I use response software for their smartphones, so we can put their responses to questions on the screen. This means that they can’t switch off and just try and do all the work before the exam.”
This is the first year for Gundermann’s course, but so far he is encouraged by the response. “It makes it more interesting for them, and it also makes it more interesting for the teacher too. You can spend time discussing interesting topics, and you don’t have to bore yourself and your students with definitions and very simple explanations,” he says.
But Miller’s warning applies here too: it takes two or three times as long to prepare workshops as it would have done lectures, Gundermann says, much of it to find fresh examples and exercises. An example: in one of his workshops he played a passage from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism as a way to start discussion. “Teaching in this way opens your mind and it gives you space to do something that you would not traditionally have tried,” he says, “When we debate how we should be teaching, maybe sometimes we need to be more creative.”
While CORE volunteers are working hard to localise the course for as many languages and regions as possible, it takes time, and we can’t do them all. At Bangor Business School almost 200 students use CORE as either their introduction to economics, or their economics foundation for other types of degree. Rhys ap Gwilym (on the right), senior lecturer in Economics, teaches CORE in English and his colleague David James (on the left), senior lecturer in marketing, teaches a similar course in Welsh.
“In the English course we teach CORE as it is,” says ap Gwilym, “and in the parallel course the ebook is still in English, but all the lectures and the face-to-face work is done in Welsh.”
To do this, Bangor’s translation staff, with help from the faculty, have translated our downloadable lecture slides, exercises and multiple-choice questions to Welsh. “Given that there is a dearth of Welsh-language materials in general, having teaching resources posted early for us to translate is a big advantage,” James says.
Ap Gwilym also argues that CORE is suited to non-English-language courses because of its interactivity. “I always feel that in economics it’s important to learn the concepts, whatever language you learn in, and the more data-driven approach of CORE compared to other textbooks helps. And when you click through the animated diagrams, you are understanding with a part of your brain which isn’t primarily about language.”
Bangor Business School is offering its Welsh-language CORE materials to any other university or school that wants them. Although the CORE Project doesn’t require teachers to contribute their adaptations to the community, the idea behind our Creative Commons licence is to encourage peer-to-peer sharing, whatever the language. As a result we can encourage more localisation than we could do on our own, and reach a wider group of teachers and learners than a traditional textbook can.
If you have successfully changed the way you teach using CORE, we’d love to hear from you, especially if you have advice you can share with our teaching community. Similarly, if you would love to change a few things this year but don’t know where to start, get in touch with us and we will try to put you in touch with people who can help and resources to get you started. You are not alone.