NSF grant to fund economists’ active learning study

Doug McKee, senior lecturer in economics in the College of Arts and Sciences, and George Orlov, an Active Learning Initiative postdoctoral fellow in economics, have received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the long-term effects of active learning and online instruction.

Active learning methods have been widely adopted in science, social science and math classrooms, including at Cornell. While the positive effects of active learning in the short run are well-documented, little research has been done to study the long-term impact of active learning, McKee said.

Doug McKee, senior lecturer in economics, teaches his Applied Econometrics class via Zoom.

“Research on the efficacy of active learning usually measures gains in student learning at the end of the term in which the methods are used, with no follow-up on the sustainability and future effectiveness of the knowledge gained,” he said. The few exceptions have focused on physics students and have analyzed small, selective groups, he noted.

With the NSF grant, McKee and Orlov will examine how different teaching methods affect student outcomes in the longer term, using as data sources two large economics courses that have been taught recently. For both courses, a baseline semester was taught using an in-person, lecture-based approach; in later semesters, the courses will be taught by the same instructors using active learning methods, online instruction or both.

The researchers will then use a variety of techniques to measure long-term outcomes for students. They will administer knowledge assessments one and two years after the course and look at students’ grades in subsequent economics courses. They will also survey the students about their attitudes toward economics and will track professional choices students have made that use their economics knowledge.

McKee said this project will have valuable, direct impact on STEM instructors and students, providing evidence for teaching practices that help students retain the knowledge and skills they learn in college long after the course in which they acquired the skills is over.

Kate Blackwood is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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