Telling data stories: a pilot workshop for economists
What do economists do all day? Economists study data in order to spot trends in economic activity. They brief colleagues on data and its likely effect on the economy, government and markets. They communicate precisely and concisely, focussing on the most relevant information. They work closely with each other and share ideas, making recommendations about ways to respond to trends as they begin. ‘Telling data stories’ sets out to equip students with the hands-on practical skills of a real-life economist, ultimately to provide them with the opportunity to exceed in life, as well as in exams.
The project seeks to draw on expertise from within and outside of the Department of Economics to deliver a pilot workshop on practical presentation skills. The aim of the workshop is to get students on their feet in an open space, to learn and practice how to use their voice and body to better communicate the types of things we teachers, and employers, expect our students to be able to communicate; that is, telling data-driven stories. The project has three dimensions: (i) running of a pilot workshop co-led by economics staff with IATL and drama education practitioners for around 40 Year 1 undergraduate students; (ii) identifying ‘Lead Learners’ from this pilot cohort to facilitate student-to-student teaching and learning as the cohort progresses through years two and three; (iii) training of Teaching Fellows in the Department of Economics on teaching practical presentation skills, with a view to these ‘Champions’ co-running workshops alongside Lead Learners going forward. The skills gained by students will contribute directly to the Personal Development Module, a compulsory component of the degree courses across Economics. Impact of participation in the workshop on students’ story-telling skills will be assessed through assessed presentations given in EC125: Computing and Data Analysis, a core module for all single and joint honours students in Economics.
The underlying rationale of this project is to provide opportunities for students to experiment using their voice and body in a safe open space to communicate economic data, through practical interactions with peers, teachers, and most importantly through their own and others’ physicality. The project builds on existing work in the Department of Economics, led by the applicant, that aims to develop and enhance ‘soft skills’ for undergraduates by (a) forging a working partnership with the student body that fosters the basic capabilities that are essential for excelling in any field, (through the Personal Development Module), and (b) exploring means by which the undergraduate curriculum might be further expanded to accommodate such work. I am applying to the IATL Academic Fellowship to lay the foundations for embedding teaching and learning in data storytelling within the economics course, on which future work within and beyond the Department can be built.
Impact on students and teachers
For the undergraduate student, the skills developed in ‘telling data stories’ are holistic in the sense that they stretch to every aspect of the student experience. Information handling, critical thinking, authentic listening and interpersonal negotiation are key to excelling not only in academic study but also in work and life beyond university. Verbal and physical communication is fundamental in supporting all of these skills. The philosophy behind this project is communication through experience, where students are exposed to their own and others’ practice as a means to gaining insight into how best to communicate complex ideas in economics. The project puts the teacher in the role of supporter in the leaning process where students take more responsibility for their own learning. In the student-centred open space, every student is a potential teacher. The project is designed to give suitable opportunities to give effect to the type of holistic understanding of the student experience described above. Ultimately, the ambition of the project is to give such opportunities to every student on the economics course. However, it is clear that full scale-up is not feasible in the short run, given the size of the economics cohort (approx. 1,1000 students across the three years). As such, the project, for which funding is being sought, is a pilot and will take 10% of the Year 1 cohort in the first instance: around 40 students. It is envisioned that out of these 40 students, a number of Lead Learners will be identified and recruited. One Lead Learner will be recruited with the specific task of monitoring and evaluation of the project, with a view to reporting on recommendations with respect to full scale-up. This, in particular, clearly speaks to the University’s Innovative Curriculum strategic objective to explore new models of teaching to enhance the student experience and extend opportunities for student engagement in the design and delivery of the curriculum. Engaging Lead Learners in telling data stories at the pilot stage will facilitate integration of the project with students at every stage of the economics degree going forward. Once fully-fledged, the Lead Learners dimension of the project will help new first year students to integrate more swiftly into the project and will also provide opportunities for second and third year students to enhance their skills and employability in their role as mentors. The project will also help teachers develop practical skills as economics educators. By leaning on the expertise of professional drama educators, the project will explore the role that drama has as a means of encouraging creative learning in an economics context. The project will allow teachers of economics to examine different styles of teaching and learning and the ways we can encourage students to work collaboratively and creatively to produce in-depth economics knowledge. Through consideration of the creative potential of a range of drama-based pedagogies, the aim is to train Teaching Fellows in economics as ‘Champions’ in fostering curiosity, empathy and criticality in our students, in order to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the project.
Legacy and Sustainability
The Department of Economics has been keen to encourage the development of experiential skills-based learning for a number of years. This is reflected in the Department’s commitment to and investment in various opportunities offered through the Personal Development Module, a compulsory but non-credit-bearing module for all first year undergraduates. Telling data stories will feed directly into the Personal Development Module with 10 PDM credits being awarded to students who participate. Generalisation at the Departmental level will also be effected through presentation-related activities in other credit-bearing modules. In the first instance it is planned that impact of the workshop will be assessed through assessed presentations given in EC125: Computer Data Analysis and ways in which telling data stories can be more formally integrated into core modules will be further explored in the latter part of the project. The Department also runs teaching forums that routinely examine best practice in experiential learning methods. The project will enhance this regular examination and dissemination of experience. At present, however, the Department does not have the expertise to deliver on the various aims and objectives elaborated throughout this proposal. As such, I am seeking funding to buy-in expertise in delivering open-space, experiential teaching and learning, to lay the foundations for a viable programme run by the Department going forward. It is envisioned that with this foundation, trained Champions and Lead Learners will then have the tools necessary to sustain a scaled-up programme in subsequent years, whilst also exploring the potential to share best practice with other Departments for the roll out of similar projects in different disciplines.
Abby Kendrick is Teaching Fellow in the Department of Economics. Her teaching focuses on theoretical and methodological issues that obtain at the intersection of economics and politics. She also leads the Personal Development Module for economists and is a keen explorer of all things creative in teaching and learning.