I have been teaching economics, for a number of years, at large lecture halls, medium, and small size classrooms. My students ranged from first generation to lawyers and State Department personnel getting graduate-level training. My philosophy has been shaped by my experience, by trial and error. Every semester I approach teaching a little bit differently.
Teaching economics has become increasingly challenging. Students have been gradually demanding less abstraction and more real-world content. They want a subject that explains to them why it is becoming so difficult to find stable employment and good wages; the roots and consequences of increasing wealth and income inequality; financial crises, regulation and politics; students want to understand their world. Therefore, today most of my courses have been shaped to meet this new generation of students who are worried about the state of the economy and their future in it. One of the central features of my approach is to show them how to link the classroom with the real world and, in particular, their lives.
For example, after discussing the roots of the recent financial crisis in an introductory course I played the documentary “Inside Job,” dealing with Wall Street corruption, to link the class discussion to the real world. Students were shocked at the evidence and elated at the same time because they understood the complexity of the evolution of the sociopolitical relations leading up to the crisis.
In the classroom, I use the “spaghetti” approach. I try many things and stick with whatever seems to work best in each situation. In some courses, I mostly lecture and occasionally I use documentaries, films and other visuals. In other courses, I use media resources and lecture from them. And, in other courses, I combine lecture and media resources to fit the needs of the course. In some classes, group work may be productive and in others lectures work better, especially in halls with hundreds of students. Largely, it depends on the group of students, their level and the course. It is easier to “flip” the classroom in advanced courses with small classrooms, although I continuously seek new technologies to do the same in large spaces.
Whenever possible, largely in small to medium-sized classrooms, my assessment tools, assignments, and exams, ask the students to respond in plain English, avoiding unnecessary jargon. I assess and value long-term internalization of critical knowledge as opposed to repetition or the use of specific techniques. I stress the importance of exploring complex issues at their core without an expectation of finding unique answers but to celebrate and learn from the practice of engaging convoluted topics.
In my experience, teaching is a very eclectic, malleable, continuously evolving process that fundamentally requires a significant willingness to empathize with each student, to patiently negotiate our terms of endearment, and a process that demands a relentless commitment to do the best I can to help them develop as they try to cope with multiple and concrete uncertainties and fears in an ever-changing, more complex and unstable world.