In spite of the tough conditions on the job market this year, three PhDs from the Department of Economics obtained academic positions.
- Vy Nguyen has a post-doctor position in RMIT for three years; Kushneel Prakash has a Research Fellow position at the Melbourne Institute, University of Melbourne and Justin Mckinley currently works as a Research Fellow at the Melbourne School of Population And Global Health, University of Melbourne.
- Congratulations to Justin for formally being conferred the PhD in recognition of his thesis Three Essays On Agricultural Decision-Making In Changing Environments.
- A big thank you to their supervisors for their great contributions. Also, many thanks to our PhD placement coordinator Chengsi Wang for organising mock presentations and interviews and to Sascha Becker, Andreas Leibbrandt and Erte Xiao for their contributions.
Mita Bhattacharya invited Richard York (ACCC) and Michelle Hall (Alumni, Deloitte Access Economics) as the guest speakers in ECF5040 Industry Economics.
Mita Bhattacharya created a video clip to include in her presentation during the Graduate Expo. This short video clip includes a talk by Paul Raschky and two of her current students sharing their learning experience. The presentation summarises our new offerings within the Masters program.
Jaai Parasnis (BCom co-ordinator) and Laura Puzzello (BBus co-ordinator) partnered with ESSA in developing these videos about Economics at Monash.
Please use them to answer students' queries about economics units, courses, and careers and to publicise opportunities in Economics at Monash.
Staff in the Economics Department have excelled at dreaming up new and appealing ideas for online teaching. Here come some tips and tricks:
- The weather man
- A hands-on approach
- Passion is key
- Success with games and quizzes
- Flipchart for formulas
- Speed dating and study buddies
Zac Gross teaches Current Issues in Macroeconomic Policy and his course contains a lot of graphs showing macroeconomic data. To enable students to understand which parts of a graph he is referring to, he resorted to using a green screen. Very much like the weather report on TV.
“This year with the transition to pre-recorded lectures I wanted to make sure that people could see what I was pointing at while at the same time engaging with something more than a disembodied voice,” he says.
“It allows students to focus on your face while talking which improves engagement, while at the same time allowing you to interact with slides when required. I suspect that having both slides and a separate box for your face risks driving attention between two sources.”
For the "weather trick”, Zac used two different programs to record the videos, both of which are free.
“I used OBS which is a recording program which lets you record videos, including the ability to combine webcams with slides as well as removing green screen backgrounds. To create the green screen effect, I used ChromaCam which digitally adds a background (much like Zoom) - in my case I chose a plain green background which could be easily filtered out by OBS.”
It is still early days but the response from students so far has been positive and he will keep using this method in the future.
“Any course which uses a lot of graphs and figures benefits from the ability to point to different parts of the slide and this seems like the easiest way to achieve that online.” Zac says.
Here is an example of Zac Gross in action:
Paul taught Applied Microeconomics for the first time last semester. Straight away he replaced a lot of studies and data examples with new tasks related to COVID-19.
“The majority of the students liked the 'hands-on' approach to the course. The students spent a good portion of the class analysing data, interpreting, and presenting the results. I was available on slack every day and at almost every hour except 1am - 8am (I had to sleep at some point). The students really appreciated everything but it came at very high costs because I spend a good portion of my time on consulting students via Slack.”
Claudio taught Labour Economics last semester. He mixes theory models with mainstream empirical applications.
“For each topic in my class I first provide students with a theoretical framework to understand a certain aspect of how labour markets work. Then, l go through the most recent empirical evidence on the topic, with the aim of testing whether the model accurately describes the reality or not. If the model fails to describe the reality we analyse the possible causes for such a failure,” he says.
This year students could engage live during class through Q&A forums on echo360 and work on groups during tutorials.
“What always works is to be passionate about what you teach and patient. Students are very sensitive. They perceive your general mode and any variation of it.
"Thus, if they perceive that you are teaching something that you like then, in my experience, they tend to like it too. If you also show that you understand and respect their needs, then they will respect you.
"The final touch is to provide students with mainstream material that has practical applications. For this reason, it is important to always keep the slides updated with the latest studies and/or empirical techniques used to study a certain topic, and to provide real world applications possibly based on settings that are familiar for students.”
Student satisfaction is high in this class. According to Claudio, one reason is that students understand how relevant the content is to develop their knowledge of important public policies such as the minimum wage, migration laws and changes in tax rates.
“Students appreciate the fact that in this class they acquire empirical skills of policy evaluation that can be used in other settings and that are in high demand in the labour market. One comment I often get is ‘Before taking this class I didn’t think Labour Economics could be so useful’,” he says.
Gordon taught Energy Markets and Policy to a small group of 25 students. The semester centred around an interactive online electricity market game where new components were added each week as they were taught new concepts (such as market power and carbon trading).
He mixed readings of academic papers with podcasts, government reports and news articles. Five moodle quizzes were distributed throughout the semester and these proved particularly successful.
“Each quiz had some 'easy' concept-checking questions followed by at least one set of questions derived from a real-world application of the concepts taught in class.
"Where possible I tried to find two interpretations of the same policy or event so students could understand the importance of critical thinking and how two different conclusions could be derived from the same set of facts.
The quizzes were very popular, as was discussing them in the next class. They were a touch labour intensive to grade, but I think it helped them learn and made them think hard. I think it also encouraged them to ask questions in class, where they’d try to translate what was being taught to what they’d seen or heard in the news, helping with participation and interaction. This is obviously a blessing of small class sizes, students appreciate getting comments on their written answers from a lecturer," he says.
Ten percent of the final grade was given for participation. Gordon made a roster of three or four students each week who had the opportunity to lead the discussion on the readings. This was not mandatory and some students gave feedback that they appreciated being treated like adults and not being nagged to participate.
“I was very clear that students needed to be accountable for their own learning. I tried to communicate that studying online under uncertainty would help their resilience and general job and life skill development.”
Zhijun taught Microeconomic Theory in semester one. It's a unit with lots of technical theories - not the easiest for keeping students engaged during online learning. He demonstrated the formulas and computations during the lecture recordings.
“I feel that the existing electronic equipment like WACO is not ideal for my purpose. Instead, I bought a whiteboard covered with flipchart papers, which avoids the problem of reflection on the white board. And I used the black and red pens to make sure they are well highlighted on the paper.”
The pre-recorded lectures were uploaded two days before the lecture and students were requested to go through the content before attending the Zoom lectures.
“In the Zoom lectures, I use about 30 minutes to summarize the main contents of the lecture and highlight the difficult points, and then give the floor to students for questions and discussions. A common problem is that one or two students may occupy most time for their questions, and other students are not happy about that.
"This issue may not be significant in the classroom because other students are watching them and they may stop asking simple questions. Therefore, separate consultation zoom meetings are also needed for a small group of students,” says Zhijun.
Wayne teaches first year Microeconomics to cohorts as large as 1,000-plus students. Making sure they feel welcome and interact with other students is not easy in an online environment. To help students connect with each other and increase engagement, he organised a large “meet and greet” event at the start of the semester.
“The response has been incredible. Some 226 students from my Microeconomics course registered for the social event during week one of term and 146 students participated. Now they want regular social events, so we are running another one right before the mid-semester break,” Wayne says.
Wayne organised the social event with his TA, Nicola Thomas. This is part of a broader project on student engagement with Jadrian Wooten from Penn State University. One of the goals of the welcome event was to increase student connections and encourage the formation of study groups or study buddies at the start of the semester, so that students would feel more connected with the course.
“After a formal introduction, students were told that the evening would proceed similar to a speed dating event, where they would be participating in a series of breakout sessions with different icebreaker questions for each iteration.
"When the time expired the students were called back to the main room and there was a second and third round of breakout rooms with different groups of students, so they would meet new people. At the end of the event, students used the private chat feature to exchange social media contacts with each other,” explains Wayne.
Wayne has already started planning new social events to increase student engagement while studying online: a pop culture trivia quiz and a Netflix watch party, where the facilitator can stop and start the show as they wish and participants can interact through a chat box.
If you want to get inspired or share your teaching tricks with a wider community, here are a couple of useful Facebook groups: Teaching Economics Online (Coronqvirus2020) and Econ Professors Unite.
Big ideas and intellectual discourse are the foundations for Vai-Lam Mui’s teaching
Vai-Lam Mui has been teaching Public Economics to Honour and Master’s students at the Department of Economics for the last ten years. Previously he taught a second year unit called 'Current issues in applied microeconomics'.
He consistently attracts high scores for his teaching, even if some students find his units difficult. He believes the high scores and his recent Dean’s Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning is due to the fact that he teaches something he is deeply passionate about: fundamental ideas.
“I’m genuine and I talk about things I am passionate about. I can share my intellectual journey with my students. It’s very exciting. What I think about, what I do and don’t understand and questions I struggle with,” he says.
About 70 per cent of his unit is about teaching the necessary models and concepts to truly grasp Public Economics. The remaining 30 per cent are discussions with students about applying the ideas and concepts they learned to current policy questions, and challenges to the existing theories. That’s when it gets really interesting for Vai-Lam.
“I learn so much from my students. We start off the term by me teaching them what they need to know. And as we progress, I teach less and listen more to what they think. It’s very good, also for my research.”
Vai-Lam uses a mix of research papers, real-life examples and movies to get his messages across. Many of the articles he teaches come from top research journals, which can be very complicated, so before a lecture he will simplify models for the students and give them background material to study.
He always thinks of examples that show the intuition of a particular question as well as something that may be useful for the students in their future life. He is also a big science fiction fan so is eager to incorporate some sci-fi examples into his teaching.
But these days he can see the generation gap.
“I like Star Trek but fewer and fewer students know about it so that doesn’t work as well anymore,” he laughs.
Vai-Lam considers teaching Honour students a privilege. While the group is small – perhaps 20 students – they are motivated and he doesn’t have to fight to get them to class. Their grasp of economic concepts is good enough for him to challenge their intellect and focus on the more profound questions. Many of which are still the same.
“In Public Economics we are always looking at how we motivate the government, our leaders, to do the right thing. And what is even the right thing? We are essentially looking for different ways to live together," he says.
"The answers to these questions will change, especially with technology, but the questions don’t.”
Every semester he tries to plan according to what the main questions are for that particular semester, taking into account current events. Keeping his syllabus up to date he is always teaching something new and staying interested in his own subject.
He encourages students to share what they are reading with him and to discuss their essay ideas. Students get graded on both an essay and an exam. After the essays are marked, Vai-Lam will spend an entire lecture on anonymous feedback on the essays to ensure the students learn from each other’s achievements as well as oversights. This is a popular part of his unit.
Although there are so many distractions for students these days, Vai-Lam still believes students have an appetite for discussing big ideas and they generally respond well to his teaching.
“I’m very humbled and grateful for the Dean’s Commendation and I think it shows that students are very excited about ideas and intellectual dialogue. I’m an old-fashioned academic. I still believe ideas matter. So I’m happy when I see from the students’ response that they are still excited about these things.”