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Lecturer's advice

Shirley Richardson, LecturerIn this section, one of your lecturers - Shirley Richardson - answers Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about researching and writing reports in first-year Economics.

FAQs: Click on those topic areas that are of interest to you, or that you need to know more about.

Objectives

  1. What are you hoping to achieve in setting the main assignment?
  2. What do you hope students will gain from the experience of researching and writing it?
  3. In the preparation of their assignments, which aspects of the course (content covered, skills, etc.) would you expect students to draw on?

Assessment

  1. What are your main considerations when assessing assignments?

Perception of performance

  1. What, in your experience, are some of the main difficulties first-year students have with Economics assignments?
  2. Which of these would you say are of a more generic nature (e.g. structuring paragraphs) and which specifically relate to writing in your discipline?
  3. Is there any feature of first-year assignments that you find particularly problematic?

Reading requirements

  1. Students are often uncertain about the amount and type of reading they need to do for a university assignment. What are your expectations in this regard for a first-year Economics assignment?

Transition issues

  1. Do you have any sense of how the writing requirements of VCE compare with the type of writing required in your course? What transitions do you think students need to make?
  2. What would you say is distinctive about writing in Eeconomics? Is there anything you would point to that distinguishes Economics writing from the writing in other business/commerce disciplines?

Advice

  1. If you were to give students three simple pieces of advice as they prepare to do an assignment in your subject, what would these be?


1. What are you hoping to achieve in setting the main assignment?

Summary: First assignment tests basic skills

The first assignment is as much about finding out how we are going as teaching staff as it is about where the students are at.

The first assignment establishes the basic foundations for all the future learning in Economics. It is therefore essential that students have to carry out tasks that test the "basic skills". Students know these basic skills are the same skills to be examined.

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2. What do you hope students will gain from the experience of researching and writing it?

Summary: Economics is visually oriented

It is made clear in the assignment that NO RESEARCH is necessary, only reading the prescribed text. This reading cannot be classified as research.

The students gain experience in handling diagrams and building their written answer around them. Economics is both (or either) diagram or maths oriented. We concentrate upon the visual, using geometry instead of maths.

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3. In the preparation of their assignments, which aspects of the course (content covered, skills, etc.) would you expect students to draw on?

Summary: Students use skills from the teaching program

It is expected that students will use all the skills and content which are demonstrated in the weekly lecture presentation, practised in the student activity segment of the lecture, and reinforced in the weekly tutorial.

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4. What are your main considerations when assessing assignments?

Summary: Assessment criteria

  • Do students understand?
  • Can they apply it?
  • Can they express it well in writing?
  • Is referencing correct?

We have a feedback sheet attached to the returned assignment indicating the relative importance of the content needed in the answers to all questions.

We are looking to see that the student understands what has been written and can apply the tools of Economics to solving problems which occur in the real world. Quoting slabs from the text book gives no indication of understanding, and only illustrates that the student knows where to look in the text. (This information is already given on the assignment sheet, so it tells us nothing.)

The student is expected to be competent in the written expression of their work and professional in their presentation, including detailed referencing.

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5. What, in your experience, are some of the main difficulties first-year students have with Economics assignments?

Summary: Students' problems with the assignment

  • Not enough effort
  • Not answering the question
  • Not writing information "in own words"

Many students do not want to put the necessary work into understanding the reading. They still expect to understand everything by just reading the prescribed text once, rather than reading some of the chapters more than once.

Less skilled students do not answer the question asked, but instead tell us everything they know about a topic.

Students need to recognise that they will not be able to put their answers to the assignment questions "into their own words" unless they actually understand the content being demonstrated. Often quoting the author's words does not demonstrate student understanding.

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6. Which of these would you say are of a more generic nature (e.g. structuring paragraphs) and which specifically relate to writing in your discipline?

None of these is generic in nature. If students understand the concepts and can demonstrate them , the writing required in economics at introductory level is minimal. Students who have accomplished VCE English will have little difficulty in writing for economics if they have done the prescribed reading and practised using the concepts.

The economic vocabulary used at the first-year level is straightforward and students are immersed in it through lectures, student activities, and tutorials, as well as in the prescribed text.

With the assistance given during the normal semester of lectures and tutorials, students should have little difficulty in gaining a good grade.

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7. Is there any feature of first-year assignments that you find particularly problematic?

Summary: Students' problems with the assignment

  • Not following instructions
  • Not doing assignments progressively
  • Not reading/studying the text

Problems arise for a few reasons:

  • Students do not follow the instructions given on the assignment.
  • Students do not do the questions progressively but complete the whole assignment in one hit.
  • Students try to do the assignment from lecture notes and tutorials only, without reading the prescribed text.

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8. Students are often uncertain about the amount and type of reading they need to do for a university assignment. What are your expectations in this regard for a first-year Economics assignment?

There is no such problem in economics. The week of the lecture is identified as well as the particular chapter students need to understand.

I expect students to follow the instructions and guidelines given on the assignment sheet.

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9. Do you have any sense of how the writing requirements of VCE compare with the type of writing required in your course? What transitions do you think students need to make?

In Economics, students need to understand what they read – the theory – and then apply it to a similar situation. They cannot just regurgitate the text content to answer the problems set. They have to use the basic concepts to solve simple and familiar problems.

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10. What would you say is distinctive about writing in Economics? Is there anything you would point to that distinguishes Economics writing from the writing in other business/commerce disciplines?

Economics is about the real world and people. It is also about key relationships. Students need to be taught how to think about the key relationships (e.g. demand and supply), and the language that describes those relationships.

Economics is a subject built on understanding certain key concepts and the terminology that describes the key concepts. These basic key concepts occur throughout all levels of Economics studies.

If the students don't understand the basics thoroughly, they will always struggle in the subject area. If they learn the basic concepts well, they can always work their way to a correct or justifiable answer.

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11. Do you have any sense of how the writing requirements of VCE compare with the type of writing required in your course? What transitions do you think students need to make?

Summary: Advice to students

  • Read instructions and guidelines
  • Attend lectures and tutorials, do the reading thoroughly
  • Complete assignment progressively

Read the assignment including the instructions and guidelines.

Ensure that you have attended the lectures and tutorials, and have covered the required reading at least twice.

Do each question on the assignment progressively. For example when told in the lecture that "after this week's tutorial you should prepare your draft answer to Q5", the student should do so. This means that as each layer of knowledge is learned, the student is then carrying out the application of that layer of knowledge. By the time the due date for the assignment comes around, a complete draft of the assignment is ready for the final copy.

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