The Teaching and Learning Centre’s Practice Exchange Forum for teaching on large quantitative courses is designed to be an opportunity for staff to share their teaching practice and experiences at the School. In this post, the TLC team outline the discussions from their most recent meeting.

With this Forum, we hope to promote an open discussion about the challenges commonly faced in teaching such courses, and the diverse approaches currently being employed to manage them. We thought it might be useful to give those LSE teachers yet to attend one an idea of what to expect!

The Lent Term meeting was held on Thursday 23 February, on the theme of “Teaching for the Real World”, and featured Professor Daniel Ferreira  (Finance) and Professor Steve Pischke (Economics) sharing some of the methods they use to encourage students to explore  abstract subjects through exposure to real world situations.

Case studies in Finance

Daniel Ferreira discussed his use of case studies in teaching Master’s level Finance students for many years, and, starting in 2016/17 undergraduates with the introduction of the Finance department’s new BSc programme. Seeing them as well-suited to  teaching on quantitative courses, his case studies are envisioned as comprehensive challenges that do not seek to abstract away the complexities of real-world situations, but rather to model or to mimic them. Students are encouraged to use the tools previously developed on the course to understand the material, enabling them to explicitly link  theory to the real-world. In this way the case dictates the discussion topic(s) with concepts and theories being introduced when needed, rather than as dictated by a particular sequencing of the syllabus.

According to Daniel Ferreira both the size of the cohort and the format of the sessions are vitally important in fostering meaningful discussion and student participation, with ideally between 60 and 90 students meeting once a week for 3 hour seminars. Such sessions allow appropriate flexibility for the class teacher to blend traditional lecture segments with classroom activities thus enabling comprehensive exploration of the case study. While this inevitably requires substantial preparation, such ex ante efforts make the resulting teaching easier and more enjoyable. Daniel attested to the overwhelmingly positive reception of this method from students (both taught postgraduate and undergraduate) and also acknowledged that each time he teaches a case study, he also grows as an educator himself.

Real-world examples in Economics

Next, Steve Pischke spoke about his use of real-world examples in his second-year Econometrics course, in which students are more likely to be asked to find solutions to the Greek debt crisis than to a dynamic two-country model. Although this introduction of example before theory can be unsettling for some students, it is hoped that through this approach they are more likely to come to understand how the theoretical applies to the practical. This reasoning is mirrored in the structure of the course as a whole, with students in the first term encountering empirical examples drawn from real-world situations, before rigorously engaging with the theory in the second term.

Unsurprisingly, real-world examples do not often follow a clear-cut sequencing of topics, which potentially introduces tangents and advanced concepts into class discussions at an early stage, but this could also be understood as a virtue of the approach, rather than a flaw. Indeed, the course relies on homework assignments entirely gathered from real-world examples, while students are further encouraged to provide their own issues drawn from the headlines, thereby continually encouraging them to develop and apply a growing toolbox of ideas and approaches as the course progresses.

For a quantitative course, a strong emphasis is placed on learning to communicate about numbers. Students are regularly asked whether test statistics and results are relatively ‘big or small’, while being required to explain complex results in ways that would be more appropriate for a workplace than a statistics lab.

Finally, Steve observed that, while these approaches can initially prove challenging for students and teachers alike, mid-term assessments have so far indicated a high degree of success in achieving the desired outcomes.

Ultimately, the contributions from both speakers proved fascinating and informative, leading to a lively and insightful discussion with an audience that comprised of staff from several academic departments across the School.  We look forward to our next Practice Exchange Forum in the hope that it will be met with a similarly enthusiastic response from participants.  If you are interested in attending one of our Forums in the future, please get in touch on mailto:tlc.academicdevelopment@lse.ac.uk!

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