Digital Resources for Teaching and Learning Econometrics
Improving Fundamentals of Econometrics with Online Practice Tests
A new initiative from Hamburg University, Universität Potsdam, and the Berlin School of Economics is helping economics students get ahead in the fundamentals of econometrics. The online tool mcEmpirics offers econometrics practice tests for students and is now being rolled out for whole economics departments with new campus-licenses. Especially with the challenges of remote teaching resulting from the ongoing global pandemic, mcEmpirics is gaining notice as a digital solution for economics students and teachers worldwide.
Getting to grips with the fundamentals of econometrics – where the field of economics meets and overlaps with the field of statistics – is often a daunting prospect. The age-old maxim that practice makes perfect is at least as applicable to econometrics as to any other skill. Reaching a useful level of proficiency requires a good deal, and likely several years, of hard graft and persistent learning. Indeed, students need to get their heads around the basics of data analysis and core statistical methods, as well as gain confidence in the use of more advanced panel data and regression models.
For those teaching econometrics at university, the challenge often lies, like in many subjects, in helping students grasp the basics of the discipline. This has traditionally been achieved through the classic mixture of textbooks, set journal articles, seminars and lectures. But in a reality consisting of large class sizes and limited contact time between tutors and students, the extent to which a professor of econometrics can effectively monitor and support the progress of each student is often very restricted. And that is before even considering the added challenge presented by the 2020/21 (22,23...) global pandemic and the accompanying social and academic distancing.
One professor at Hamburg University and Universität Potsdam, Thomas Siedler, has developed a new online resource to help econometrics lecturers and students alike tackle the challenge of practicing and gauging students’ progress in the fundamentals of econometrics. As an experienced economics lecturer with a focus on microeconometrics, Prof. Siedler initially developed mcEmpirics for students on his own econometrics courses at Hamburg University. After excellent feedback, in early 2020 he opened it up to anyone with access to the internet.
As with most good ideas, the principle of mcEmpirics is simple. It offers a quiz-based format for students, with each test compiled from a pool of over 800 questions. These cover core econometrics topics, including questions about the statistics software package STATA, and questions based on key econometrics textbooks, with a focus on applied econometrics. Some of the undergraduate favourites covered include publications by Joshua Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, Jeffrey M Wooldridge, and James Stock & Mark Watson, names most econometrics teachers are familiar with.
Recognition of the value of mcEmpirics for economics students came quickly, with funding being pledged in April 2020 by the Claussen-Simon Stiftung. This is a charitable funding body that supports creative and innovative projects in the areas of digitization, networking, and coaching. The aim of the funding is to help further quick and effective solutions for education, especially for remote learning and digital teaching, given the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The foundation clearly saw mcEmpirics as a major and valuable contribution to this goal in the field of econometrics.
Individual users can access all quizzes for a small fee (€2 to €3, approx. $2.50 - $3.50) per month, specifying which topic, keyword, or book chapter they would like to focus on. The site then generates a multiple-choice quiz. After attempting the quiz, users see explanations and suggestions for further reading so they can dig deeper and revise econometrics topics they struggled with.
As it has gained popularity, mcEmpirics has expanded beyond its low-cost individual subscription model for students (although this is still available), offering an additional option for university economics departments. The new campus licences allow department heads or individual lecturers to integrate the practice tests on mcEmpirics into their own courses. It also enables econometrics tutors to develop customized tests based on their own curricula, using both the library of questions included, as well as adding their own. Additionally, the tool enables tutors to set deadlines and collect results centrally, download results and view the progress of individual students as the course proceeds.
In this way, mcEmpirics is helping economics departments and professors of econometrics set their students meaningful tasks in the context of the difficult teaching landscape of a worldwide pandemic. Furthermore, the possibility to track progress through regular semi-formal assessments helps tutors gain an overview of how well their students are absorbing the material. Given the challenges for university departments and tutors in every subject, economics included, the prospect of a simple and accessible tool that can effectively support student learning is an appealing one indeed.
As a final note, here at INOMICS we have had some fun playing with mcEmpirics over the past few weeks and comparing our results within the team. With a free-trial available (three free quizzes) it is certainly worth taking a few minutes to check it out.
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