Lecture, Cooperative Learning, and the Use of Internet: Substitutes or Complements?∗ Cuneyt Orman†

Spring, 2001

Abstract The aim of this paper is to compare and contrast three different teaching methods: Lecture, cooperative learning, and the use of internet in economics instruction. Both negative and positive features of these methods will be discussed briefly, and finally, an alternative perspective on how to employ each method in the teaching of economics will be suggested.



I thank professor William E. Becker for his insightful feedback on an earlier draft of this paper. All

errors are mine. † Department of Economics, Indiana University, Wylie Hall Rm 105, 100 S. Woodlawn, Bloomington, IN 47405-7104. Current e-mail: [email protected]

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Introduction

In this paper, I compare and contrast three different teaching techniques, namely, lecture, cooperative learning, and the use of internet. After I present both negative and positive features of each technique, I discuss whether they are substitutes or complements to one another in the teaching of economics.

1.1

Lecture

Research on the variety of teaching techniques used in the university and college classrooms indicates that current teaching practices in economics rely heavily on “chalk and talk” or the lecture method (Becker and Watts, 1996). This method requires the instructor to stand up in front of class and speak, while requiring students to sit and listen. The speech (lecture) given by the instructor is usually extensive in content, which is a real challenge for students. Because of the limited capacity of the human mind to process information (a widely-held proposition of most psychologists), students will not be able to retain all of the newly introduced information in their memories and will forget part of it. Moreover, a German-Swedish psychologist, Katz (1950), found that beyond a certain point, adding elements in an intellectual task causes confusion. On the other hand, “extensive” lecturing (lecturing for the whole class time or a large portion of it) necessitates extensive passiveness on the part of students. However, some students learn more and better by becoming actively involved. In his paper, Shuell (1986) states that all meaningful learning (learning that emphasizes understanding and the acquisition of knowledge) requires active participation on the part of the learner. In line with Shuell, Study-Group (1984) contends that the more time and effort the students put into the learning process, the greater will be their growth and achievement. As for the positive feature of the lecture method, it allows instructors to cover a broader range of economic concepts and topics, and to dig deeper in those concepts and topics. In this way, students get exposed to a greater extent of theory and related details, and are able to develop a broader understanding of the economic science.

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1.2

Cooperative Laearning

Cooperative learning is another technique that is commonly used in social sciences. It aims at bringing students into interaction and cooperation with other students and the instructors alike, in order to enhance the acquisition of knowledge. The emphasis is on active rather than passive learning. Empirical research on student-centered methods shows that working together on learning makes a substantial improvement in the quality of learning. In their review of research on instructional methods, McKeachie, Pintrich, Lin, and Smith (1986) conclude that “the best answer to the question ‘What is the most effective method of teaching?’ is that it depends on the goal, the student, the content, and the teacher. But the next best answer is ‘Students teaching other students’”. This is also true for student-teacher cooperation because it provides immediate feedback from the teacher and is a means of elevating motivation for the student. But, the latter is not as effective as the former (McKeachie, Pintrich, Lin, and Smith, 1986). Unfortunately, recent research by Becker (1997) shows that the class-time use of cooperative learning in research universities has been extremely low. The situation in other higher education institutions was no different. This may be because the instructors consider that any shift from the traditional lecture format involves an inevitable sacrifice of theoretical rigor (Carlson and Schodt, 1995), and/or because cooperative learning activities are very time-consuming.

1.3

Use of Internet

Innovation of new technologies has always made many people think quite optimistically about the potential benefits they could provide for the instruction of economics. Some instructors even believed that those innovations would completely alter and revolutionize the traditional way of economics instruction. For example, in the 1960s, many instructors thought that the use of televisions was going to dramatically improve economics instruction in the college classroom (Coleman, 1963). This has not quite been the case however. Similarly, in the 1970s, it was widely believed that computer instruction would have a profound effect on the teaching of economics. In the early 1980s, extensive research was

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conducted on computer-assisted instruction in economics, but the positive results were extremely limited (Siegfried and Fels, 1979). These historical facts raise doubts about what we can expect from the use of internet for economics instruction. Probably, the best attitude to take is to be hopeful but modest in our expectations. With this perspective in mind, I next present some useful features of the internet and the World Wide Web (www) for economics instruction. First of all, the internet can be used to ease and enhance communication between students and instructors, via electronic email (e-mail). Manning (1996) notes that perhaps e-mail is the most useful feature of the internet that can be easily used by economics instructors with students. Students can email their instructors about questions related to the concepts and topics covered in class or about a problem in their homework. Instructors can reply back at their convenience. Secondly, the internet is a rich source of economic news, data, and information that can make economics more relevant and understandable to students. The instructors can use upto-the-minute data and examples to illustrate economic concepts and provide additional sources of information from across the world (Simkins, 1999). Students can search for magazines, news, or recent economic articles, and hence broaden their knowledge. It also helps students relate the abstract concepts of economic theory to real world issues. Such activities promote active involvement of the student in learning and provide richer learning experience than traditional teaching methods can. Finally, the internet provides new opportunities for cooperative learning which, I believe, is the most useful feature of the internet. It is a suitable tool for increasing student-student interaction through the use of on-line chat, discussion boards, and list-serves (Simkins, 1999). More importantly, it lets students easily work on small groups and individuals than is possible in a traditional classroom (Walstad, Fender, and Edwards, 1998). In this sense, use of internet includes the traditional cooperative learning features and therefore its benefits outweigh the benefits of cooperative learning. Manning (1996) and Agarwal and Day (1998) describe the educational benefits of using these tools in economics courses and their positive effect on student performance and attitudes towards economics. Although the use of internet has manifest benefits, it has its costs, too. Taking as granted the universities and colleges have the necessary infrastructure for the computer-

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based and internet-oriented teaching, there is still some personal cost to instructors. They have to spend time learning up-to-date software programs and new internet opportunities in order to provide a beneficial teaching medium. They also have to devote a portion of the course to this practical technique by sacrificing from theoretical rigor.

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Conclusion

As our discussion of the three techniques indicates, each technique has its pros and cons. Lecture provides theoretical rigor but lacks the involvement of students in active learning. Cooperative learning facilitates student-student interaction as well as student-instructor interaction, but hinders working rigorously on theory. The use of internet in economics instruction, like cooperative learning, emphasizes active learning in a more fertile environment, but has similar drawbacks with respect to theoretical rigor. None of these methods is perfect, but each has a great deal to offer to instructors of economics. Therefore, they should be treated as complements rather than substitutes in the teaching process, and an “optimal” portion of the course should carried out by each.

References Agarwal, R., and A. E. Day (1998): “The Impact of Internet on Economic Education,” Journal of Economic Education, 29, 99–110. Becker, W. E. (1997): “Teaching Economics to Undergraduates,” Journal of Economic Litearture, 35, 1347–73. Becker, W. E., and Watts (1996): “Chalk and Talk: A National Survey on Teaching Undergraduate Economics,” The American Economic Review, 86, 448–53. Carlson, J., and D. Schodt (1995): “Beyond the Lecture: Case Teaching and the Learning of Economic Theory,” Journal of Economic Education, 55, 17–28. Coleman, J. R. (1963): “Economic Literacy: What Role for Television,” The American Economic Review, 53, 645–52.

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Katz, D. (1950): Gestalt Psychology. New York: Roland, Reading, Massachusetts. Manning, L. M. (1996): “Economics on the Internet,” Journal of Economic Education, 27, 201–04. McKeachie, W. J., P. R. Pintrich, Y. Lin, and D. Smith (1986): “Teaching and Learning in the Classroom: A Review of Literature,” NCRIPTAL. Shuell, T. (1986): “Cognitive Concenptions of Learning,” Review of Educational Research, 56, 411–36. Siegfried, J. J., and R. Fels (1979): “Research on Teaching College Economics: A Sruvey,” Journal of Economic Literature, 17, 923–69. Simkins, S. P. (1999): “Promoting Active-Student Learning Using the World Wide Web in Economics Courses,” Journal of Economic Education, 85, 278–91. Study-Group (1984): The Progress of an Agenda: A First Report from the Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in American Higher Education. Walstad, W. B., J. Fender, A. H. Fletcher, and W. Edwards (1998): Teaching Undergraduate Economics. Irwin: McGraw-Hill.

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Lecture, Cooperative Learning, and the Use of Internet ...

able to develop a broader understanding of the economic science. 2 ... best answer to the question 'What is the most effective method of teaching? ... granted the universities and colleges have the necessary infrastructure for the computer-. 4 ...

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