The rectangular teaching space at the Peninsula campus is brand new with irregularly shaped tables for the students, white boards and screens on the walls throughout the room.
It is hard to believe it can seat up to 60 students and because of the numerous screens everyone can see the slides or videos projected across them all. The camera mode can also be switched on to show the white boards across the screens if the teaching assistant needs to write something to explain further.
The tables themselves are covered in a white board surface so the students can write on them.
“When a tutorial is going really well, the table top is full of writing and the students will just continue writing on the white board on the wall and they are really feeding off each other,” explains Associate Professor Lionel Frost.
He thinks the new space has greatly improved the teaching at the Peninsula campus. It means students can discuss a topic in a group rather than with just their neighbours when they are seated in rows and he and the TA can circulate freely in the room. Students are expected to answer questions and explain to fellow students at the white boards.
“The way this is set up is to break down hierarchy. Sometimes I will sit down at one of the tables and go through a concept for half an hour with the students if that’s what they need,” he says.
But it’s not just the new facilities that are behind the success of Lionel Frost’s teaching. He teaches from his own text book that is updated every three years to stay relevant to students. There is over a 90 percent pass rate in his classes and he believes it is largely due to the continuous assessment method he applies throughout his courses of first year Micro and Macro.
“I’ve been working with continuous internal assessment for years. I just find that it works so much better. To start with students turn up to class because there’s a test. But now they come to the tutorials anyway because they know that’s when they learn,” he says.
Throughout a semester the students are tested about six times in class and the grades of the assessments count for 40 percent of the final grade. There is a very strong correlation between how well they do in the continued assessment and the final exam. A traditional final exam makes up for the other 60 percent. Lionel is not a believer in mid-semester exams.
“I just feel students aren’t doing very well in them, that they haven’t started working yet, it’s a bit of a wakeup call. What we try encourage here is regular work on a weekly basis.”
Lionel has also turned to a more tutorial based learning model. He will deliver one lecture a week which lasts about 50 minutes and a two-hour tutorial where he runs through the key concepts again but mainly focuses on case studies and real world examples in smaller groups. The Peninsula campus has a lot of advantages. It is small and friendly and the staff are often on hand to answer questions. Still they have to work hard to retain students.
“This is often their third choice and a lot of them come here to do a first year and then they want to move on to Caulfield. But we take the teaching very seriously. The foundations are so important. If we don’t teach them well in first year and get them engaged and learning they are not going to choose Economics as their major, that’s why we have to put in a lot of effort.”
80 percent of students are Internationals, the majority from China.
“They do very well in this smaller setting and the continuous assessment teaches them what we expect and shows them that it’s just putting in the hours and doing the work there’s every support for you here.”
How do you think the Department can become better at teaching?
“I think a lot of great work is already being done by passionate people like Simon Angus and I don’t think I’ve met anyone who’s said they don’t enjoy the teaching. But it would be great if we could have a Teaching retreat in the same way as we had for research. I really enjoyed the research retreat and I think we could do something similar with teaching, just a few hours to learn from each other.”
Will you be making any changes to your teaching next year?
“I am always thinking about what I can do better, keeping my textbook updated and finding new examples. I will definitely keep the structure of one lecture and two-hour tutorial per week. I had an experiment this year recording short videos and posting them before the lectures about the key concepts for that lecture. But I’m not sure students were really watching them so I don’t know if it’s worth it. I’ll try something different next year.”
Anke Leroux has devised a unique trading scheme that teaches students about the market. They can trade flexibility in determining the weights of their major assessments against due date extensions on their mid-semester essay.
Students trading the due date of their essays with classmates? Changing whether the exam or the essay is worth more in their final results? Sounds far from traditional university methods. It’s all possible when senior lecturer Anke Leroux is teaching. Students taking ownership of their assessments while learning the true fundamentals of price setting and the market.
“In economics the market is very important, in climate change economics even more so with all the trading schemes of goods that are not normally priced through markets, carbon emissions for example. It is always hard for students to understand how the market sets a price in the end. The invisible hand is not really visible to students,” says senior lecturer Anke.
Every year she teaches the Economics of Climate Change to third year students. A few years back she put it as an essay topic to students to come up with a trading scheme and gave the students a lot of pointers to think about for their design proposals. She kept introducing the topic and after two years, two groups came up with some very good solutions and Anke decided to work with some students to implement their ideas in the classroom. The result is “assessment flexibility trading”, an online platform where students trade with each other extensions on their mid-semester essay and flexibility in how they allocate assessment weights.
“I wanted a system with an unpriced good and to get the market to price it. What is a due date worth, in this case?” explains Anke.
“We can’t use money obviously as it would be unethical but there doesn’t need to be money, it could be anything that’s worth something to students – like ownership over how much your major assessments are worth. About ninety percent of students choose to use the trading scheme”, says Anke.
During the first week of term the students can try out assessment flexibility trading to learn how everything works. They also do an online quiz and their mark is converted into due date credits. They can get up to seven due date credits and this means there’s some difference in how many due day credits the students get within the class. Students who opt in to the scheme also receive an endowment of five assessment flexibility points.
For the essays, normally due in week six, the students can trade to extend the due date by up to two weeks or they can submit early in week five. Students can also accumulate up to 15 percent assessment flexibility points, which they can use to make their essay worth anything between 10 and 40 per cent and their final exam worth anything between 75 and 45 per cent of the total mark.
The trading scheme has been running for four years. Some modifications have been made and Anke is set on keeping it up. She sees several benefits.
“Students have an ownership of the structure of their assessment and we as instructors see what their preferences are.” Says Anke.
She goes through the trading results with the students and plots the supply and demand for due dates as well as completed transactions to see how the value of due dates is changing over the trading period. Typically, of the 75 per cent of the students who have some flexibility to allocate at the end of trading, around 60 per cent use it to change their assessment weights – in most cases making the essay worth more and the exam less.
For the first time this year she allows students to change the assessment flexibility after they know their essay mark. If they know they have done well in the essay they may want to allocate more weight to the essay and less to the exam in their final result. Anke is already seeing a huge change in the trading.
“Previously everyone was looking for due dates, now everyone’s looking for assessment flexibility points so it has changed the market completely.”
This scheme could be applicable to other courses. Have any of your colleagues taken you up on this scheme?
“No not yet, I’d be quite happy to share it but you’d need a course which has an essay component and a lot of subjects are moving away from that.”
Master’s student Marco Lecci and Honour student Aaron Augustine Rozario are taking part in the 'SWIFT Institute Challenge 2018'. Their idea has been selected to compete in the finals at “Sibos 2018” in Sydney.
Sibos brings financial leaders together to network, collaborate and find solutions to industry challenges. The theme for 2018 is 'Enabling the digital economy', which reflects the far-reaching transformation of banks and other financial service providers as they adjust to the realities of a digital world.
Each year the SWIFT Institute holds a competition called SWIFT challenge, where students can address a topic chosen by the institute. Previous winners were from University of Toronto in 2017 and University of Warwick in 2016.
This year topic is: 'Data privacy in an open API world - how do we keep personal information safe in an open data environment?' Marco and Aaron are among the eight finalists and will present their idea at Sibos in October. The price is $30 000 for the winner to reinvest in the project. Their idea combines economic principles (like auctions in a competitive market, sustained by a system of incentives) and Blockchain technology to secure costumers data. We wish them the best of luck!
Kris Ivanovski has spent his first semester as a Scholarly teaching fellow at the department doing his best to provide a high standard of learning to all the new first year students.
“I’ve got a genuine passion for teaching. You can’t be in this industry and not be passionate. I love being with students and engaging with them. There is a sense of fulfilment every time.”
Kris Ivanovski works to change the dynamics of teaching and move away from the traditional one-way teaching that is still common across many universities. One method he’s fond of is called “Poll Everywhere”. Using their phones students can access a platform whereby they can answer questions in the classroom by texting and the texts appear on the screen. In this way concepts and questions are discussed while the students can stay anonymous.
Students are always looking for more and better feedback and one process he was working on was the super tuting room with sometimes up to fifty students and two tutors. The students have monitors, one tutor is delivering the content and the other is walking around in the class room. The students can use the monitors or draw straight onto the tables to solve problems.
“Everyone can get involved, we give them markers to draw and they can see questions on the monitors or tap into their phones. These are new methods we are developing”, says Kris Ivanovski.
Given the massive move to on line content, Kris Ivanovski is doing his best to refine the content and make it more interesting using video and other interactive tools to improve the connection between student and teacher in an online environment. In the future, he hopes to develop on line distant learning so that students who listen to his lectures live on line can actually ask questions interactively in real time through a platform.
But technology isn’t everything. Good old-fashioned story telling is also important to capture the attention of students and deepen their understanding of basic economic concepts. And Kris Ivanovski is not afraid of experimenting and being playful in the lecture theatre. At one of the very first lectures of the semester he usually brings up two randomly chosen students to the front of the classroom and gives each of them a consumer good – say rice and sugar - and makes them exchange them with each other.
“There you have it! We’ve been exchanging goods with each other for thousands of years. That’s the fundamentals of Economics. It always makes the students laugh and wonder what I’m doing. That’s all part of making them engaged”, he says.
Kris Ivanovski has been teaching for ten years, ever since he was an honour student himself at Monash University. After his Master’s degree, he worked for government for two years but found he missed teaching and learning and came back. He has a Ph.D in Economics from Monash and throughout his PhD studies he kept refining his teaching skills. He has also taught at Deakin university and University of Melbourne. In 2017 he received an Excellence in teaching award and his unit was one of the most highly ranked at Monash.
Who was your favourite teacher and how did that person influence you?
“My favourite teacher was one of my Honour’s teachers, Dr Randy Silvers. I had him in third year undergraduate and he pushed me to do Honours. He brought a really good level of enthusiasm and energy. His drive and commitment was very inspiring and he was continually giving me feedback but also asking me to take initiatives. “
Since January this year Kris Ivanovski has a full-time position as a scholarly teaching fellow teaching micro and macro to first year students. And the semester has been a busy one. A thousand students are taking first year economics.
“I see Economics as very layered and that’s how I teach it. I start with the most simplistic concept first and give a real-world example, then I bring in the next more complex concept, give examples and keep going with the layers until it’s really rich. That takes time.”
One of the recent innovation projects he is involved with is streamlining the quality of tutors to make sure they are at an even, and very high, teaching quality. Early on in the semester he surveys their teaching skills in the class room and gives them feedback for improvement. He then returns some weeks later to monitor their progression. In parallel, students are asked to fill out surveys about the teaching experience to see if the improvements have filtered through to them. If this method proves successful it may be rolled out to other departments.