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Geetha Rajaram Abstract for January 2010 AEA poster presentation
Assistant Professor
Whittier College
grajaram@whittier.edu
(909) 348 7882
Teaching Econometrics as Active Learning
The goal of this project is to incorporate an active learning process in teaching multiple regression in my Introductory Econometrics course. The project incorporates William Zinssers description of learning as an action and process, not just an accumulation of information. Zinsser talked about achieving this goal by redefining the three Rs, asreading, riting and reasoning. (pg. 22). Thus, understanding econometrics mathematically without incorporating it into a large do-it-yourself project is insufficient to achieve Zinssers description of learning. The specific learning objective of the econometric project is to assess students' abilities step-by-step to turn raw data obtained from ICPSR (Inter-Consortium of Political and Social Research) using SPSS into a viable thesis.
The course satisfies an upper-division requirement for the pre-professional economics major. The pre-professional major is designed for students intending to pursue graduate degrees in economics. All students enrolled have completed introductory and advanced microeconomics, and a basic statistics course. Hence, there may be some students taking the course without an understanding of calculus.
The project is designed as a mini-dissertation for students. During the course, students will learn how to work with a large survey from beginning to end. They download and clean up data, recode and transform data, create descriptive statistics, run regressions, write a literature review, explain the data, model and hypothesis, write an analysis explaining the numbers in the regression output, write both a positive and normative analysis of their results, and make policy proposals. Simultaneously, students learn the standard topics in econometrics.
The class is taught twice a week in two-hour sessions during the fall semester. Step one of the project starts before students depart for the summer. I meet with students who are registered for the fall course to show them how to log on to ICPSR and look for surveys. They are instructed on how to download a survey using SPSS. Because students at this point would not have had experience with SPSS, this process is merely to show them how to download and open the file on SPSS. This is done so that students have a couple of months looking for a survey of a topic they are interested in pursuing. Students are told to e-mail me with the survey number once they have decided. Students in the class cannot use the same survey for the same topic. This prevents papers with the exact same survey and topic.
Students are taught the various topics in econometrics as they simultaneously work on their project. During the first hour of a two-hour class, new material is presented. During the second hour, students work with SPSS on their project.
In step two, students clean up their survey. This process is taught to them through a project done jointly in class using a topic and survey the professor has chosen from ICPSR. Students are shown step-by-step how to recode data into binary variables, transform variables, assess missing observations, and other data-related functions.
Step three includes showing students how to use the olap cubes function from SPSS to do descriptive statistics with multi-layer tables. They will learn how to show their descriptive statistics graphically. In step four, students are taught to identify the theoretical model, hypothesis, empirical model, perform the regressions, and various tests. Step five shows the class how to perform simulated analysis from their regressions results. Throughout the project, students are taught how to do the various functions using the in-class project as an example. Students then write the paper based on the following outline:
1. Introduction--What is the topic, and why is it important? What are the sections in the paper?
2. Literature Review--A literature review discusses published information in the subject area. The literature review should be a summary of the important information of the source regarding the subject. It can also include how that information is re-organized to fit the needs of the paper. Why are the sources chosen important for the subject matter? What were the important conclusions of the source? Provides some information on how it was attained. A literature review could also evaluate sources and advise the reader on what is most pertinent and relevant.
3. Theoretical Model--In this section, students briefly describe the theoretical model that structures their empirical work. The theoretical model should include a careful discussion of the dependent variable and the ideal explanatory variables to be included. The data may limit them to include only some of the explanatory variables that are relevant.
4. The Data--Students describe the data they use. They also present a table of descriptive statistics and possibly some graphics for the dependent and explanatory variables that are used in the model. They also discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the data they will be using.
5. Empirical Model--This section will describe the model that is estimated, and its functional form. In addition, students describe the measures of their variables, (for example, binary variables).
6. Results/Analysis--In this section, students present their empirical results. They must provide a table that summarizes the empirical results they obtain.
7. Simulated ResultsStudents generate figures and tables of results and compare the results to their theoretical analysis. They discuss agreements and discrepancies. Students are encouraged to choose realistic case studies for their simulation, not just those that their approach happens to work well with.
8. Conclusions--Briefly describes what is learned from completing the project. Does the empirical work provide support for the theory? Do the results seem reasonable in light of their knowledge of economics and the economics literature? What additional work would the student carry out if they had more time?
9. References in APA style.
Students are encouraged to expand the paper as their senior project in the major as well as send it in for conferences at SCCUR (Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research) and NCUR (National Conferences on Undergraduate Research). In order for this process to be possible, we encourage students to take the course during their junior year, thus increasing the likelihood of conference presentations. Out of a class of twelve students in the fall of 2008, four are interested in sending their projects for conference presentations. I will work with some of them during the summer of 2009 to prepare them to send their papers to SCCUR in the fall of 2009. At the end of the project, students present their findings in class. The presentations help them prepare for the senior project presentations, which are required and open to the campus community.
The poster at the AEA meeting will present a brief abstract with the objective and teaching strategy of the project. It will also include a summary of all the steps in the project, including the outline given to students, a copy of a student paper as a sample of the final written outcome of the project, and students comments on the projects from their evaluations.
The active learning strategy has been successful with students because they appreciate learning economics through applications. This project allows students to apply theoretical concepts and models learned in other economics courses. By including an active learning component using a large project from ICPSR, Zinssers description of active learning can be achieved. The evidence of its success includes copies of papers written by students as well as their evaluations of the project.
Zinsser, William K. (1998). Writing to Learn. New York: Harper & Row.
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