The Teaching Economist

For more than a quarter century, The Teaching Economist has presented strategies about teaching and learning from the cognitive sciences. Austin Boyle and William L. Goffe, both of Penn State, tried to uncover the effect of many of these strategies, such as retrieving, spacing, elaborating, generating, and interleaving, on two large macroeconomic principles classes taught by Professor Goffe. These “research-based teaching methods” are too numerous to detail here, but here are some examples of what he tried to do in the course: get nearly all students to read the material before class; connect new ideas with material already covered; interleave topics on five written homework assignments; lead with an example before introducing the abstract idea behind it; ask about five clicker questions per class period that stressed understanding rather than computations; use clicker questions, class discussion, seven quizzes, and the cumulative final exam to space retrieval of key concepts throughout the term; structure PowerPoint slides so that words appear a line at a time and diagrams build in sequence as they are explained; and provide abundant feedback throughout the term, for example, by reviewing the reasoning behind each answer immediately after each quiz. The changes introduced seem ambitious, even exhausting, for an instructor, but he said he enjoyed seeing students learn more effectively. To assess the effect of all these strategies, the Test for Understanding Economics (TUCE) was given at the beginning and end of the semester. The authors argue that because this test was normed in 83 sections of macro principles courses at 53 institutions taught by instructors who volunteered for the norming process, instructors with at least an average interest in teaching, TUCE results should offer a reliable comparison. The 508 students in the course who took the TUCE averaged four more correct answers (out of 30 questions) than the norm and in so doing achieved 0.77 standard deviations more learning in the course. See “Beyond the Flipped Class: The Impact of Research-Based Teaching Methods in a Macroeconomics Principles Class,” (May 29, 2016), available at


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