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Teaching and Learning within

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1 Teaching and Learning within
South African First-Year Undergraduate Economics Education Emmanuel Ojo Wits School of Education University of the Witwatersrand Sixth International Developments in Economics Education (DEE) Conference, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom: 6-7 September 2011

2 Overview Background Problem Statement Research Questions
Literature Review & Conceptual Framework Research Methodology Data from pilot study Discussions Conclusion

3 Background This paper is a work-in-progress and part of a doctoral research. Its focus is on teaching and learning in first-year undergraduate Economics Education in South Africa. One of the eleven ‘traditional’ universities is chosen as a case, since there is a high degree of correlation in the context, content and structure of first-year undergraduate economics programme in South Africa. The key question is ‘how do lecturers teach first-year undergraduate students and how do the student learn? Key words/Phrases: Teaching, Learning, Economics Education, First-Year Undergraduate Students.

4 Problem Statement The challenges of increasing access, improving throughput and retention are key ongoing national discourse in South African higher education (CHE, 2010). Data available on first-year undergraduate students at the university under consideration shows that the average final marks of students hovered around 50% since It was precisely 46% for 2009 and this picture has not significantly changed in 2011. Yet, there is no study in the South Africa higher education that probes into understanding the teaching and learning of undergraduate economics education, especially for first-year students.

5 Research Questions What are the pedagogical understanding and practices of lecturers teaching first-year economics courses on the Bachelor of Commerce programme in a ‘traditional’ South African university?; What system of learning is evident amongst undergraduate students taking first-year economics courses on the Bachelor of Commerce programme at this university?; and How do the pedagogical practices of lecturers and learning practices of undergraduate students taking first-year economics courses align and help to explain the academic achievement, or lack of it, in the BCom programme at this university?

6 Literature Review What teaching staff do, how they learn and the theory about teaching and learning are understood as entangled (Pang & Marton, 2003). Threshold concepts within economics’ teaching and learning are examined (Meyer and Land, 2003) The state of economics education will be examined under the assumption of neoclassical economics as the core curriculum. The concept of economics education as focusing on the scholarship of teaching economics and the need for economic literacy are supported by various organizations in the US (Becker, 2001). Therefore, this has led to a body of literature in United States, but little or nothing in the South African context (Oosthuizen, 2008)

7 Conceptual Framework John Dewey’s notion of experience- A pragmatist who sees a strong link between theory and practice, seen to be relevant given the disjuncture which students often find between theory and practice (Dewey, 1997). John Biggs’ idea on constructive alignment Constructive alignment starts with the outcomes lecturers intend students to learn, and aligns teaching and assessment to those outcomes. Learning is constructed by what activities the students carry out; learning is about what they do, not about what we teachers do. Likewise, assessment is about how well they achieve the intended outcomes, not about how well they report back to us what we have told them. (Biggs, 2003)

8 The Classroom as a “Field of Interactions”

9 Research Methodology First-year undergraduates taking economics as a required course on the Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) at a South African university. A mixed/integrative research. A qualitative research approach: focus group discussions in the pilot phase and post-pilot phase using phenomenography research approach to collect and analysing data from lecturers and students. The instrument will be semi-structured, informal in style and last for approximately 90 minutes and will consist of the researcher as the moderator (internal relation). A quantitative research approach: for the post-pilot phase , structured questionnaire to collect data on age, gender, mathematical foundation, economics background and language proficiency (independent variables) as key factors in students’ learning (dependent variable) . Data will be analysed statistically. (external relation)

10 Research Methodology- The Pilot
An initial exploratory, pilot phase which has been implemented and consisted of two focus-group discussions with lecturers and selected students. All nine lecturers teaching introductory economics at this university took part and 30 first year students. This gave insight into the context of the research problem, assisted in moderating the interviews questions and sought critical factors pertaining to the study.

11 Focus group questions- Pilot Stage
University lecturers’ focus group questions Undergraduate students’ focus group questions What do you mean by teaching (learning) in Economics I to first year students at this university?; How would you know if a student had learned something in this course?; and Assuming I were to ask you, what makes an effective teacher of Economics I at this university, what would you tell me?. What do you think learning as a first-year student at this university is?; How do you know you have learnt in Economics I?; and A friend of yours hasn’t studied Economics so far and he/she would like to ask you what you study in Economics? What will you tell him/her?

12 Emerging patterns from the pilot
UNIVERSITY LECTURERS’ CONCEPTIONS OF TEACHING AND LEARNING UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS’ CONCEPTIONS OF TEACHING AND LEARNING Students learn in ‘pigeon holes’ i.e., they are unable to connect concepts and make progression in concepts as they build one after another. The nature of economic concepts- microeconomics is seen as being abstract compared to macroeconomics with tangible concepts such as taxes and unemployment as seen in the media. Mathematical background of students as a key requirement to studying economics. Students are unable to apply theory in real life. Second-language students , of which are many in South Africa, tend to misinterpret concepts. They hear words and phrases incorrectly. For example, elasticity as ‘electricity’ and fiscal policy as ‘physical policy’. Learning economics is about repetition. The more the lecturer repeats the concept, the better the students have the possibility of learning the concept and subsequent concepts. Learning requires institutional support. It also requires the lecturers’ personality and teaching method to be more sensitive to their needs. They learn better in tutorial groups (25-30 students per group) . Students tend not to attend the large lecture classes (about 600 students per class in the current session) There is too much focus on the textbook where teachers bring in the textbook and speak from it. Students are de-motivated to attend classes as a result of ‘perceived bad teaching” There is a huge challenge in relating the concepts to the South African context since conventional textbooks are written within a non-South African context. Language is a major barrier since English Language is not the first language of most students.

13 Conclusion Coming out from the pilot data, there is clearly a mismatch between how teachers teach and how students learn. Therefore, the theories of Dewey and Biggs are very valuable and appropriate to this study. Is this purely a South African challenge or does this audience relate to this same trend?

14 The intention of this presentation is to generate constructive, developmental questions and ideas on this doctoral research. I greatly appreciate your contributions.


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