Interdisciplinary education through active learning.

Introducing Economics and Econometrics into engineering education; hands-on learning using real data

This project concerns the interdisciplinary master course Housing markets and Strategies (Faculty of the Built Environment, chair Real Estate Management and Development).

The course teaches engineering students to apply theories and empirical methods from economics and especially econometrics to solve real world problems. This in the context of the housing markets and making use of big data. Examples of such problems are: figure out how much people are willing to pay for dwellings with solar panels or for a location with little traffic nuisance, predict future housing demand in a location, etc. Understanding what clients want and how markets work is crucial for a successful engineer of the future. Economics and econometrics offer tools and concepts to do this using real world data.

The goal of the project was to augment the classical teaching in this course with active learning activities based on hands-on real world assignments.

The main innovation was to design active learning in such a way as to make the material appealing to engineering students who had not been acquainted with economics/econometrics yet.

To achieve the project goal, we have designed the following structure for the course.

Weekly meetings of this course were divided into two parts. In the first hour (lecture), new material was taught in a classical way like before, with the teacher taking the lead.

In the second hour (tutorial) the classroom was flipped and active learning took place. Active learning was of several kinds:

  1. Active learning by analysing others’ work (weeks 2 to 4 and 6 to 8).
  • In each tutorial two teams of students would present to the class high quality empirical articles in which the theory and methodology of the previous week was applied to solving real world problems.
  • Students who were not part of the presenting teams, had to read the articles in question in advance and formulate questions on them. After the presentation, students would ask their questions to the presenting team. The teacher acted as a moderator leading this peer-to-peer discussion.

2. Active learning by doing yourself.

  • During week 5, students had to make a hands-on real data assignment. In this assignment they used real data on housing sales that we managed to collect. The goal of the assignment was to perform a number of econometric analyses using methodologies learnt during the lectures and tutorials. After the assignment was handed in, it was discussed during the tutorial. In this way students got feedback on what they did right or wrong.

The course as a whole got a high evaluation from the students. On average, the scores were 0.5 points higher than in the previous year.

Especially the parts concerning active learning (educational setup, interim tests, variation in teaching methods) got high scores. One of the students commented: “The assignment of presenting and asking questions really helps to think about the subject matter, and thus helps you to understand the subject matter.”

- overall score: 7.5/10

- relevancy: 4/5

- educational setup: 4/5

- organisation of the course: 3.9/5

- study material: 3.6/5

- interim tests (this concerned the data assignment): 4/5

- content, interaction, variation in teaching methods: 4.1/5

- enjoyment from the course: 4.2/5

Furthermore, Rachelle Kamp from TEACH visited one of the tutorials to evaluate our experience with active learning and help with suggestions for further improvements. She complimented us on the set up and the realisation, especially on the fact that all the students in the class actively participated in the discussion. She made some suggestions on how to use blended learning possibilities (online quizzes etc.) to activate students even more; we will try them out next year.

The goals set in the project proposal have been realised and the innovation worked out. We augmented the classical teaching in course Housing markets and strategies with active learning activities based on hands-on real world assignments. The result was positively evaluated by both, students and a professional expert from TEACH.

We expect that our approach is readily transferable to other courses.

There are two main challenges teachers have to take care of.

  1. First, designing active learning assignments that are based on real world problems and are attractive for engineering students is quite time-consuming. One of the reasons is that real world data are not readily available.
  2. Second, it may take considerable effort to ensure that all the students actively participate in each tutorial. Combining different existing active learning approaches (flipping-the-classroom, team-based learning, problem-based learning, etc.) helps here.