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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Economists are not taught pedagogy

As I sat in the Course Design Institute the other day, it occurred to me that much of the language being used by the speakers would be completely foreign to many of my colleagues in economics. I’m not even talking about the vocabulary of educational technology (though that would likely be even more foreign) – I’m referring to the language of pedagogy. For example, I’m pretty sure that if I asked around my department, very few of my colleagues would know what Bloom’s taxonomy is. The recent focus on assessment at my University means that many faculty are now able to articulate specific learning outcomes for their classes but my impression is that coming up with these learning outcomes is seen as something we are required to do to satisfy the University, not as something that could actually stimulate deep thinking about our classes and help improve our teaching. This is not to say that my colleagues are not dedicated teachers; most have an earnest desire to teach well. But economists are simply not trained to think about pedagogy in a formal way so ‘teaching well’ too often means just having organized lectures and student evaluations that are not terrible. ‘Chalk and talk’ is still the norm and although we like to talk about getting our students to “think like economists,” most economics professors still focus more on content delivery (i.e., as long as students can regurgitate content, they must be learning), than on ‘constructionism’.

I am not sure whether this situation is unique to economics. At most Center for Teaching and Learning events I have attended, there seem to be more faculty from fields like Communications, Journalism and Tourism (which I find sort of interesting), and fewer faculty from Arts and Letters and the hard sciences, but I could be wrong about that...

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