Economics at Michigan has long had a reputation for innovative research, top-tier programs, and prize-winning scholarship.
Today, it’s also known for its inventive and contemporary methods of teaching too.
Lecturer Edward Cho is helping to lead leading the charge, by ditching PowerPoint in favor of a simple chalkboard, coupled with lively classroom discussion.
In his introduction to financial markets class, for example, Cho runs a stock-picking exercise, where students track the rise and fall of their shares over the course of the semester. Their competition? Cho’s cat.
“I think this activity illustrates important lessons for students. I think that at first, they don’t realize that a lot of stock picks are based on luck. It doesn’t really hit home until their pick is outperformed by a cat’s,” he laughs.
Throughout his career, Cho has come to truly appreciate the value of interaction in teaching.
“I knew that a good teacher was organized, knew the material well, and answered questions. But there are more dimensions to learning, and you can really push students’ knowledge further,” he says. “I want students to care about the material. Why it’s important to them. Economics is very useful for giving you a framework to think about many types of issues.”
Cho also makes it a point to have frequent discussions of current events in his classes, relating them to themes and concepts in economics. A recent example is the national debate over increasing the minimum wage. Students analyzed the benefits, costs, and externalities of a possible increase—looking at the issue through many different lenses.
“People sometimes approach issues with preconceived opinions that influence their thinking, but in economics, we are able to look at the issues and their effects in many ways. It allows students to analyze the issues and form their own arguments in a systematic way,” he says.
He also does an exercise he calls “think, pair, share,” in order to encourage shier students to contribute ideas too. He asks students first to ponder a problem, then to pair up and discuss the question with a partner. Finally, the whole group comes together to talk about it. It’s a method that encourages deeper thinking and lively debate from all students.
“For me as a teacher, a classroom is a place where you motivate, you interact, and you give a different experience to students,” says Cho. “They could learn the material just by reading the book—but they wouldn’t build their own intuition. It’s my goal to make sure they do.”