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Distance Learning in Economics

Note to reader: I started to write this last week and I can't tell you how different it is now to then!

With school closures now in force, how can we continue to educate Economics students?

The answer will vary wildly depending on school policies, how far through the course you are and the resources (especially IT) that students have available at home.

That said, TeacherHead has written a really sensible (or at least I think so!) article on things to consider. He says ‘You are just doing your best to keep students engaged with learning; not providing a school away from school.’ After all, if distance learning were just as effective we’d all be out of a job! You can’t expect students to the same amount of ‘new’ learning as you would expect from students at school.

I would also adhere to his advice about sticking to very clear cut tasks. You want students to know exactly what they are doing. Tutor2U Knowledge Books are quite good for this: you can either direct them to certain pages or just let them work through it as and when.

He also recommends repeatable task structures which might work well for those who need routine. For example, each day you could set a few pages of reading, a video and another activity such as exam question or worksheet. It will also give a sense of cohesion to your instructions, which encourages students that what they're doing is part of a bigger plan (even if we don't know what that is yet!). To this end, I've made some Notebooks which give hours worth of familiar, worthwhile learning for the whole of Year 1 Macro. They work really well with video learning such as using EconPlusDal's fab videos.

That's not to say you can't add in extra activities, but it's important that these don't seem random or disparate to students - we don't want them to think we're just setting them whatever we can find!

Many schools are requiring project work, so I'm going to have a really good think about some ideas for this (including some suitable for Year 11s into Year 12) but for now, I'd recommend using the Economics in Ten podcasts as a basis for an enquiry into an Economist.

Some websites are already set up to offer distance learning for Economics. Seneca is a popular one, and EzyEconomics is very comprehensive. Marginal Revolutions University isn't built around the A-Level syllabus but their videos are very well-explained and in a good amount of depth if you can find what you need.

There is one part of TeacherHead's advice that I would disagree with. He recommends scaling back marking, but depending on your class sizes and how far through the course you are, I would be tempted to do the opposite: scale back planning and doing live lessons, and instead move to video marking. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, even with the best will in the world, I reckon there's a limit to the effectiveness of online learning for new content, with rapidly diminishing returns to scale. Secondly, I don't think the same is true for marking. Thirdly, it's important that students feel their work is counting towards something rather than just languishing in your inbox. Finally, and most importantly, personal connection is more valuable than ever. Being 'seen' by you, even through their work, can make a world of difference.

Practically, you can do this by pulling the students work up on the screen and do a screen- recording as you 'Live Mark' - basically reading it out aloud and commenting as you go along. I prefer Live Marking anyway (although I've only ever done it face to face) to written marking and find it takes the same amount of time (but I'm a slow, easily distracted marker!). To record a screen video, press Command+Shift+5 on a Mac or follow these instructions for Windows.

Finally, I'd recommend keeping in touch with your Economics teaching colleagues at these tricky times as I'm sure innovation and advice will come thick and fast. Facebook groups and twitter are a great way of doing this.

1 Comment

Áine Troy
Áine Troy
Mar 27, 2020

Hi I just want to thanks for this post, I'm finishing up my second full week of distance learning and online zoom lessons and I tried out your idea of live marking today. It went so well, it led to really good discussions and the students were much more active in the lesson and engaged. Even though my year 13 class don't have the exam focus as before it is still good preparation for university and made them think about actually answering the question asked rather then their own version of the question. Thanks again.

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