What do you do when you have a very dry topic to teach and the snores from the lecture theatre are drowning out your words?

Kevin Deane, a new Lecturer in International Development in NBS, faced exactly that problem, some 5-6 weeks into the term. Feedback from the students was clear – “we are bored by this and we are not engaging”. It was time for a radical rethink.

Kevin and I spent about two hours batting ideas back and forth over how to help his class see how the opinions of these long dead men could be relevant to them as 21st century students of economics. I had made a choice not to lecture a group of postgraduate students during a three hour session but instead to spend that face-to-face time on the application rather than the acquisition of knowledge. Could a similar approach be utilised in this context?

The answer came in the form of an academic poster exhibition with each group producing a poster on a different economist which they had to present at an exhibition at the end of term to fellow students and staff within NBS. They also had to explore the relevance of each economist – did they agree with their theories; were their opinions wrong?  This had the effect of ensuring a higher level of participation than might otherwise have been the case, given that the poster was not being assessed.

The subsequent 4 weeks of lectures were therefore abandoned and the time allocated to group work on the posters. In spite of some initial discontent Kevin made it clear to the students that this was simply a different approach to teaching and that the students would still be expected to attend and participate. Success was also encouraged by ensuring that students had weekly interim goals and deadlines to work to.

At the exhibition, it was evident that the students I spoke to had engaged with the material and enjoyed finding out about their allocated economist. They had also grasped the concept of what an academic poster was about!  A number of staff from NBS were present to ask questions and to help Kevin judge the best poster(s) – three prizes were awarded in the end.

On reflection, Kevin will definitely repeat this approach for this module, but will add an element of assessment to further increase participation and engagement. To read more about the what’s, why’s and wherefore’s, please read his case study – Kevin Deane – Histor.

For now though, this process of resuscitating the wrong opinions of dead men shows that the theories really do live on.

One Response to Resuscitating the wrong opinions of dead men: A Case Study on the History of Economic Thought

  1. Kevin Cook says:

    I’ve been looking for a better way to deal with theories of development which students always find difficult and my delivery is not helping. Same problems as you Kevin. I will deal with development theories section of course in the samew ay as you by getting groups of students to produce a poster for exhibition. Each group will be given a theory to research and present. Can I chat to you sometime in the New Year about the guidelines you gave students etc?

    Thanks, Kevin