How to research and publish in economics education
As you develop your career in higher education economics, you will likely be carrying out research within a field in economics. But you will also likely be involved in delivering and developing teaching within your department. As a result, you may be interested in developing and disseminating an understanding of what students should learn and how they learn.
A recent article introduced a range of publications and conferences focused on teaching, assessment and pedagogy in both economics and more widely. This article may help motivate you to adopt a more innovative approach to teaching, and may also spark the desire to share your work in pedagogy.
Just as with research in economics, there are a wide range of areas within pedagogy that you could focus research in, and the skills developed as an academic economist are often transferrable when thinking about teaching and learning more generally. In this article, we will discuss some of the key elements needed to publish research relating to economics education.
1. Develop teaching innovations
A first step towards developing research in pedagogy might be to explore new teaching innovations. These don’t need to be radical innovations, but just need to be novel. For example, you might introduce a game within a principles of economics lecture to illustrate marginal productivity through active learning.
A good understanding of what has been developed and evaluated previously is important here. Economics journals such as the International Review of Economics Education, the Journal of Economic Education and the Journal of Economic Teaching may provide you with inspiration. They can also help identify what has worked, and what has not.
Some journals will publish work introducing an innovation, but for most journals it will also be important to evaluate the teaching innovation.
2. Evaluate economics teaching innovations
Having introduced a new teaching innovation, it is usually important to evaluate the innovation. Economists have significant training in evaluation, and this can build upon the applied economics you have learned during your PhD, or earlier. The principal reason for evaluating the innovation may be to check that it is having the desired effect, and is not having any deleterious effect on student outcomes.
Of course, the act of evaluating the innovation may also mean that you have the opportunity to share it, and your skills as an economist will be beneficial when evaluating the quantitative or qualitative impact of the study.
If you are submitting an evaluation of a teaching innovation, editors in the review process will be looking to see that you have connected your research with the existing literature, and that the empirical evaluations are sound. For instance, if you claim the innovation is having a causal effect on grades, they will want to check that your identification strategy is sound. Similarly, they will want to check details such as that you have a suitable sample size to evaluate the effect, whether you are using the correct econometric tests, and whether your control group is sound as well.
For publication, editors will usually be looking for research which will be of interest to the general readership. If your innovation is too niche, or is only applicable to a very small group of economics educators (e.g. if the innovation would only be relevant to the structures in your own institution), then editors may reject the research. However, you should also be careful not to claim too much. If there are limitations to your evaluation, you should make these clear to the reader.
3. Review the existing literature
Of course, you don’t have to be developing brand new ideas yourself in order to carry out research and publish in the area of economics pedagogy. Often reviews of the existing literature, drawing upon evidence from a range of fields, can be very beneficial, and can be highly cited pieces of work. For example, Julien Picault’s recent paper “The economics instructor’s toolbox” provides an excellent overview of the development of pedagogies across economics.
Many subjects can become stuck in silos when it comes to thinking about the best methods for education. Economics is a subject that, because of its nature - combining mathematical technicality, statistical tools, and the ability to explain and argue concepts - means that there are real benefits to drawing together evidence from a range of disciplines including both sciences such as mathematics and physics, and the humanities.
4. Develop new curricula
Whilst “developing a new curriculum” may sound like a Herculean task, there is constant debate in a range of journals about what should go into an undergraduate economics curriculum. Economics is a constantly developing field, and as such, curricula also need to change over time.
One area in which there is much work is developing the debates about what should go into curricula, including what is important and what should be left out.
As higher education has become more market-based (particularly in the UK and US), the role of an undergraduate degree has been shifting as well. In many institutions, it is no longer seen as sufficient for a degree to merely teach students more about a subject, but other skills need to be embedded visibly within the curriculum.
For example, employability skills are often seen as an important element to be embedded within courses. Research on embedding these skills could be based on empirical evidence of efficacy, or could involve qualitative studies about students’ wants and reactions to these innovations.
5. Innovative assessment
The type and format of assessment is just as important as the pedagogies being used, and the curriculum being followed. All three should be constructively aligned.
While closed-book exams do constitute a large proportion of assessment in economics, there are opportunities for evaluating and investigating these methods, many of which will follow a mixed-methods approach. If you are writing about an innovation in assessment, it’s important to think about what the assessment looks like and what its outcomes are. These can be in terms of the observed skills that students develop, or their progress in subsequent years of study. But it’s also important to note how the assessment ties in with the curriculum and teaching.
On its own, an innovative assessment may be of interest, but it is unlikely to generate good outcomes for students unless appropriate changes are made to the pedagogy as well. At its most extreme, if you ask students to write a policy report (say) as the assessment for your unit, but all of the preparation is mathematical problem solving, it is unlikely that the assessment will gain good results. And, it will be unlikely that a journal would be interested in publishing your research!
If you are innovating in your teaching, or are reading widely about novel pedagogies, you can also add depth to your academic CV by writing for publication. However, as with your research in economics, for work to be published, it needs to be innovative, rigorous, and provide a wide interest to the readership!
This article was produced in cooperation with the Economics Network, the largest and longest-established academic organisation devoted to improving the teaching and learning of economics in higher education. Learn more about the Economics Network here.