Based on feedback from previous students on first year Economic History courses, there was a recurring theme of how students struggled to engage with the complexity of the material. Anecdotal reports confirmed that few students were attempting to read in depth prior to seminars. I therefore decided that a different approach was required in order to encourage engagement and also make the subject more accessible to first year students who have entered university from a variety of different backgrounds. I was also aware that there were a number of students on the course who had various disabilities and different learning styles, and I wanted to make the classes as accessible as possible. My approach, therefore, took two dimensions:
Firstly, through conversation with the students I found they were skipping any part of the reading that included graphs and/or tables. As this is an essential part of understanding economic history, I sourced and formatted appropriate graphs and tables, printing these before each seminar and handing them out at the beginning of each session. Thus, even if students had not completed, or had struggled with, the required reading for the seminar, all students were able and expected to contribute to class discussion.
However, there was still an issue regarding the lack of confidence students had discussing economic history, so I developed the second aspect of my strategy: what I termed ‘Economic History Bingo’.
Each week I created a grid containing 16 squares, which contained various symbols. For example, one week the grid contained a mixture of graphs (which denoted the discussion of graphs or tables), pens (for discussion of author ideas from the weekly reading), a dictionary (for discussion of economic history definitions), and stars (for general discussion around that week’s topic). These symbols varied depending on the topic for any given week. When students offered a considered answer to any of the questions I asked I would tell them which symbol they could mark off their grid.
This led to very animated discussions, and even the shyer students, regardless of their learning style or learning difficulty, volunteered answers/comments. The fact that students had not previously seen the graphs/tables also created a more level playing field, so that students who had not completed, or had struggled with the reading felt they could still make a valid contribution.
The motivation for answering multiple questions came in the form of chocolate – whoever was first to get a ‘Bingo’ of 4 marked squares in a line received 3 chocolates, the second two chocolates, and the third one chocolate. The seminar groups had a maximum attendance of 10 students, and an average weekly attendance was often closer to 8 students. This meant that students had a reasonable chance of winning at least some chocolate.
As the weeks progressed, students became more confident discussing economic history, discussing graphs/tables, and would still continue to make observations even after the chocolate had been distributed – demonstrating that the initial reward had been replaced as a goal by receiving positive feedback and engaging with the subject matter. Feedback from students regarding the use of ‘Economic History Bingo’ included comments such as:
‘It makes Economic History fun’
‘The chance of winning chocolate motivated me to say more in class than I usually would’,
‘Even if I knew I couldn’t get any chocolate in the class, I still wanted to contribute as I didn’t want to have a blank bingo grid’.