From Diversifying Economic Quality: A Wiki for Instructors and Departments
Active learning is an educational approach in which educators enable students to construct their understanding, teaching them to become problem solvers and critical thinkers. In contrast to a classic 'chalk and talk' presentation in which an instructor delivers information to students, students learn how to gather, analyze, and evaluate information themselves.
Studies show that active learning can help encourage women and racial minority groups in fields where they are underrepresented. Multiple studies have looked at the effects of inquiry based learning in the natural sciences, areas in which women and racial minorities are also underrepresented. Interactive engagement methods such as Peer Instruction have been reported to increase understanding for all students and to decrease the gender gap in Physics. Other studies   similarly suggest that inquiry based teaching practices improve all students' comprehension of materials and may be particularly beneficial to female, African American, and Latino students.
Students of teachers who emphasized interest in science, further study in science, and experimental methods had higher scores; this benefit was significantly greater for underrepresented minority students. According to an overview of past research about the effectiveness of inquiry based learning , past projects to increase gender ratios in the sciences have found improved success rates with an inquiry-based teaching compared to traditional lecture formats.
How to Incorporate Active Learning
Incorporating Active Learning into the classroom requires changing the environment from one of passive information reception to one of curiosity and desire for explanations. This shift in thought can be achieved by adopting several related practices and attitudes.
- Become familiar with Bloom's Taxonomy and help your students move up the pyramid.
- Use One-minute papers.
- "The one-minute paper is a "modest, relatively simple and low-tech" innovation designed to obtain regular feedback from students. In the final minute or two of class, the teacher asks students to respond to the following two questions:
- 1. What is the most important thing you learned today?
- 2. What is the muddiest point still remaining at the conclusion of today's class?"
- Using an experimental design, John F Chizmar and Anthony L. Ostrosky (1998) report an approximate 6.6 percent increase in economic knowledge relative to pre-treatment levels.
- Flip your classroom.
- Participate in the Wikipedia Education Program.
- Use Peer Instruction.
- Peer Instruction is an instructional strategy that works even in large classes; it engages students through a structured questioning process involving every student. Harvard researchers implemented and evaluated the method and found "increased student mastery of both conceptual reasoning and quantitative problem solving upon implementing PI."
- Pressley, McDaniel, Turnure, Wood, and Ahmad (1987) presented undergraduate students with a list of sentences, each describing the action of a particular man (e.g., “The hungry man got into the car”). Students in the treatment group were prompted to explain “Why did that particular man do that?” Another group of students was instead provided with an explanation for each sentence, and a third group simply read each sentence. On a final test in which participants were cued to recall which man performed each action (e.g., “Who got in the car?”), the treatment group substantially outperformed the other two groups. (Summary from Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan, and Willingham, )
- Translating this result into the economics classroom is feasible and desirable, but it requires a bit more nuance. Generally economics requires students to retain not only the base information but also a particular explanation of that information. Economists could provide follow-up research to identify the efficacy of questioning techniques that lead students to develop and retain this higher order learning.
- Emphasize the "how" rather than the "what" of knowledge.
- Explain the methods economists used to learn the causes of increased income inequality rather than simply reporting the casues.Thirteen.org By placing an emphasis on the knowledge-creation process, students learn basic concepts and begin to learn how to generate knowledge themselves.
- Don't emphasize that there is "one right answer."
- An emphasis on a single correct answer to a question discourages student involvement and discourages critical thinking. When students contribute to classroom discussions, identify the value in their comments. Then, clearly explain the generally accepted answer and why that answer is valuable.
- Read The Art of Questioning.
- Teach using the case method.
- Providing students with a case representative of the lesson's educational objective effectively engages them beyond pure memorization. With this method, students develop a solid understanding of the underlying concepts through analysis of the case. Consult this guide to implementing the case method in the economics classroom.
- Use problem sets with context-rich problems.
- Problem sets effectively engage and challenge students by requiring them to comprehend and use concepts from the lesson. For a guide on using context-rich problems in the Economics classroom read here.
- Schedule periodic recitation sessions with students.
Other Examples of Active, Inquiry-Based Learning
Stephen D. Morris (Department of Economics, University of California, San Diego) presents research-based suggestions for improving the teaching of AS/AD in his paper, Teaching General Equilibrium to Undergraduates: A Graphical Approach.
See "Focus on Inquiry: A Teacher's Guide to Implementing Inquiry-Based Learning" by the Alberta Ministry of Learning , and a similar, shorter document from Penn State.
A Dream Experiment in Development Economics by Prakarsh Singh & Alexa Russo, The Journal of Economic Education (Volume 44, Issue 2, 2013)
Partial-immersion language programs promote language acquisition through active use rather than through memorization of vocabulary and verb conjugations. See Thirteen.org.
Additional Evidence and Research
Becker & Watts, 2008.
This paper examines how economics was taught in four different undergraduate classes in colleges and universities. U.S. academic economists filled out a survey in 1995, 2000, and 2005, and researchers compared the responses to see how teaching methods changed throughout this decade. During this decade, there was nationally a greater focus on encouraging instructors to spend more time, attention, and effort on teaching, especially through active, student-centered teaching methods (i.e., less use of direct instruction, known colloquially as 'chalk-and-talk'). By 2005, more instructors were using other teaching methods beyond chalk-and-talk, such as classroom discussions, lecture notes provided in hard-copy or online, and computer lab assignments in econometrics/ statistics courses. Additionally, a small but growing minority of instructors used internet database searches, classroom experiments, or assignments referencing current financial news, sports, literature, drama, and music. Cooperative learning methods were used much less frequently. Click here to access it. This study can be found in The Journal of Economic Education.
Becker & Watts, 2001.
In this article, the authors compare the results of surveys on teaching style conducted in 1995 and then again in 2000. They found that although higher-education institutions have effectively shifted from professors' focus from being more research-oriented to being more focused on their teaching, outdated teaching methods still permeate the discipline. From the surveys conducted, the authors see that classroom presentations are still dominated by the "chalk and talk" method. The authors also find that teacher-student discussion does not occur until until upper level courses, and student-student discussion is rare for the discipline as a whole. On a similar note, it is observed that the use of multiple-choice test formats seems to be excessive--especially in introductory theory courses. Click here to access the article.
Major & Palmer, 2001.
"Problem‑Based Learning (PBL) is an innovative educational approach that is gaining prominence in higher education. A review of the literature of PBL outcomes summarizes, across multiple studies, the positive effects of problem‑based learning. Since PBL brings with it unique challenges to traditional assessment, however, this study suggests alternative approaches. Alternative assessment may provide additional insight into the effectiveness of PBL and other alternative pedagogies." Click here to view it.
Crouch, Watkins, Fagen, and Mazur, 2007.
"Peer Instruction is an instructional strategy for engaging students during class through a structured questioning process that involves every student. We describe Peer Instruction (hereafter PI) and report data from more than ten years of teaching with PI in the calculus- and algebra-based introductory physics courses for non-majors at Harvard University, where this method was developed. Our results indicate increased student mastery of both conceptual reasoning and quantitative problem solving upon implementing PI." See link provided above.
The rate of information dissemination has dramatically increased, due to technological development and global interconnection. An educational system that focuses on memorization and lower order cognitive skills is obsolete and inefficient. Instead, curricula can be reorganized to emphasize problem-solving and other higher order skills. Through inquiry-based teaching practices, educators create an environment of inquiry, helping students to seek more than simple answers, to explore the mechanisms underlying what is known, and to learn how to create knowledge themselves.
von Secker, Clare. 2002. "Effects of Inquiry-Based Teacher Practices on Science Excellence and Equity" The Journal of Educational Research, 95, 3. 151-160. 
"Inquiry-based Learning: Explanation." THIRTEEN - New York Public Media. Web. 03 June 2011. <http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/inquiry/index_sub7.html>.
"Inquiry-based Learning." Printable Worksheets for Teachers and Students. Web. 01 June 2011. <http://www.worksheetlibrary.com/teachingtips/inquiry.html>.
"World Language - Partial Immersion." FCPS Home Page Redirect Page. Web. 10 June 2011. <http://www.fcps.edu/DIS/OHSICS/forlang/partial.htm>.
Becker, William E., and Michael Watts. "Teaching Methods in U. S. Undergraduate Economics Courses." The Journal of Economic Education 32.3 (2001): 269-79. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/pss/1183384>.
Kinkead, Joyce. 2003. "Learning Through Inquiry: An Overview of Undergraduate Research" NEW DIRECTIONS FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING, 93. 5-17. <ftp://charmian.sonoma.edu/pub/references/Kinkead.pdf>