Principles of Economics

Schliessen Icon

The TORQUE-format economics lecture of Renate Schubert is one of the first courses at ETH Zurich which transfers knowledge by means of independent study largely using video, and then deploys classroom time to apply and consolidate this knowledge via peer learning. The course shows that this scenario also works for courses with large student numbers (500+) – above all when resources for the creation of several small groups can be mobilised within the class context.

Various teaching elements such as videos, lecture notes, exercise tasks and group work are deployed to make the course as interesting as possible for the students, and to take into account their diverse learning styles, wishes and possibilities.

The new course concept lends itself to better alignment of the course with learning objectives and examinations: in both of these the ability to apply economics knowledge to practical problems is central.

This TORQUE now comprises more than 80 short videos, in which the professor presents the substance and models of economics. An electronic learning environment provides exercise questions in quiz form, solutions, discussion forums and current media reports for each video and/or theme. Students can assess their own learning progress at any point via exercises on the electronic platform, and they may use the platform to communicate with one another quickly and easily to address unanswered questions. The learning platform is also explicitly intended for use as preparation for the classroom sessions.

During classroom sessions, five groups work interactively in parallel for 14 days. One group uses the flexible auditorium HG E41, with its technical possibilities. Students talk, use the EduApp, develop scratch cards and/or conduct role-plays as experts. The professor stays in the background but is available to steer, explain and correct as needed. Assistants act as group tutors (a new task). For reasons of capacity, and because many students desired it, a larger group (ca. 150 people) is formed every 14 days to hear a more conventional lecture. Alternating with the classroom sessions, a “study centre” supervised by members of Prof. Schubert’s Econ Team also takes place in HG E41 every 14 days.

Very significant for the deployment of this concept was that the lecture team (doctoral students, postdocs, student employees) gained such enthusiasm for the “lecture project”. Their efforts have been extraordinarily successful and the project has become an innovative training vehicle for team members, who lead groups of up to 50 students through the various themes. In comparison with standard courses, they are prepared to invest great amounts of time in this activity.

Comments from the student evaluation of the economics lecture are mixed, which is typical of such innovation projects. Many comments were positive, but some indicated a preference for a conventional lecture format. As also seen at other universities, this reaction is typical of students experiencing the first flipped classroom courses in their degree programmes, and, as here, often afflicts the precursors of innovative teaching.

The project has generated various interesting side-effects, for example intense interaction and discussion among students across degree programme boundaries and increased pre-classroom “preparation pressure”. In the meantime student evaluations have been more positive, and examination results have also improved.