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Geetha Rajaram
Assistant Professor
Whittier College
grajaram@whittier.edu
(562) 907-4908
Closing the grade gap between a nine and ten a.m. introductory microeconomic course by using active learning examples.
Previous to implementing more active learning examples in class, a comparison between the nine and ten in the morning introductory microeconomics course showed a larger gap in favor on the ten a.m. class of the average test scores as well as average scores by grade level (A, B and C grades), even when students entering grade point averages and class standings are taken into consideration. In my fifth year of teaching introductory microeconomics for the same time period, data collected of grades, GPA, class standing of all students shows the gap between the nine and ten in the morning class may have narrowed slightly (the grades for spring 2010 course will not be certain until after the final exams in two weeks). Data from the admissions office show the average GPA and SAT scores for the entering freshmen class does not vary much from year to year. Thus, the academic knowledge of entering students in the last five years in both the nine and ten o clock course can be assumed to be consistent. Average GPA of students from both nine and a.m. classes support this assertion. For example, last year the average GPA (before the course) of all students in the nine a.m. class was 3.20, and it was 3.16 for the ten a.m. class. This year it was 3.11 and 3.13 for the nine and ten a.m. class respectively.
From the years 2006 to 2009, I did not incorporate much active learning examples in teaching the introductory microeconomics course. The number of students failing the nine in the morning class was on average double the ten in the morning class. Due to poorer attendance in a nine a.m. class, that statistics is not surprising. Surprising is the averages for the nine a.m. class among the A, B and C students is lower than the averages for the same cohort in the ten a.m. class. The A students in the nine in the morning class had an average of 92.2% within the last four years compared to 96.5% for the ten in the morning course. In addition, close to 98% of students receiving an A attend both classes.
The materials, tests, quizzes and homework are all identical in both classes. However, student participation is far ahead in the ten in the morning class compared to the nine in the morning class. Thus, this year I decided to design the nine a.m. class to increase student participation for those who do attend. I kept the teaching methods of the ten a.m. class the same as previous years. This may or may not affect closing the gap between the attendance between the nine and ten classes, but may affect closing the gap in average test scores of those who do attend between the nine and ten classes. Thus, I decided to use more active learning examples in my nine in the morning course and not in the ten in the morning course to gauge if it could lead to closing the gap in grade averages between the two classes. I added more active learning examples for materials for exam 1 (demand and supply) and exam 3 (firm theory). Given time constraints I did could not add active learning examples for exam 2 (consumer theory) as well. I plan to next year.
Specifically, these were the steps taken in the nine in the morning class to encourage more student participation. First, during the demand and supply topic, I played a game where I was the seller and the students the buyers of a product. Asking them to assume the product of selling an A is not morally reprehensible for the time being, for a given price students would raise their hands on who much they are willing to buy. I would then let them know how much I am willing to sell, and thus the discussion on quantity demanded, demand, quantity supplied, supply, equilibrium, shortages and surpluses all at one point in time, ceteris paribus can all be explained using this example. Students then are broken up into groups to come up one product/service (I ask them to keep it legal), they are willing to sell and that buy and sell with the different groups in class. They are all given the same income to do this. We discuss their experiences, and all the concepts related to demand and supply. I then increase their income, and ask them what the groups would do. This is a new example, and there are several kinks that need to be worked out before next year. But it illustrated demand and supply very well to students. I also noticed student participation to questions posed increased tremendously compared to previous years. I also noticed and recorded that attendance for the nine a.m. class increased for the next three classes after this exercise. In addition, the test on the demand and supply topic (exam 1) showed an improvement in the average scores from the previous years. The average for the A students this year for exam 1 increased to 94% compared to the average of 95.5% of A students in the ten class, a closer gap. The exam 1 average for the B students for the nine a.m. class was actually higher than the ten a.m. class, which was the reverse compared to previous years exam 1.
For firm theory, in addition to the usual lecture, I used a game theory approach to teach firm theory in the ten class and not in the nine class. Friesner and Axelsen (2006), argued that game theory can be applied to virtually any economic problem in a manner that is accessible to students of different mathematical backgrounds and level of exposure to economics (p 3). At Whittier College, students who take introductory microeconomics fit into Friesner and Axelsens three group of students who usually take the course: students who are intending to major in economics, students who are business majors, and students who taking it to satisfy a general education requirement. All three groups do have different mathematical backgrounds as suggested by Friesner and Axelsen, thus game theory may be an applicable method for this course.
I used the game proposed from Watson, Joel (2002, chapter 2). The game was called the DreamWorks SKG studio producing the film Antz versus Disney Studios producing A Bugs Life to illustrate production decisions. A detailed version of the game will be presented on my poster. The experiences of the students after the game was presented were mixed (about half the class loved it and the other half did not). Some students just found game theory application to be too confusing, while others found it be very interesting. The results on the firm theory exam were inconclusive. The A students in the ten oclock class did slightly better than the ten students (95.3% to 94%), but the B students did substantially worse (81% to 86%). Moreover, the overall average grade actually dropped after introducing game theory. Next year, I plan to use a different active learning example to illustrate the concepts in firm theory.
The poster at the AEA meeting will contain this abstract. It will include a detailed step-by-step explanation of the two examples noted above. It will also consist of data that show the average grades broken down by GPA, class standing, and by attendance frequency for the nine and ten in the morning classes before the change in the teaching method for the nine in the morning class (spring of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009). I will do the same for both classes after the implementation of the change in the teaching methods for the nine in the morning class (Spring 2010). The poster will include a summary of the results and my conclusions of the effectiveness of the change. In addition, the poster will include the steps I will be taking to continue this study. Specifically, how I will teach the nine and ten classes next in the Spring of 2011.
Friesner, Dan and Axelsen, Dan. 2006. Using Game Theory To Teach Principles Of Microeconomics. Journal for Economic Educators, Summer, Volume 6, Number 1: 1-14
Watson, Joel. 2002. STRATEGY: An Introduction to Econometrics, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., New York, NY
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