My Teaching Philosophy

There are three guiding principles that form the foundation of my pedagogical approach. The first is that students should be exposed to material beyond that found in textbooks. Next, critical engagement with a diverse set of ideas is a necessary part of the learning process. And third, it takes varied iterations of core concepts to ensure that students achieve the learning objectives associated with their course of study.

While mastering the material found in textbooks is a critical part of a college education, it does not provide students with a sense of what it is that scholars actually do or how science progresses. In the field of macroeconomics, for example, being exposed to material outside of the textbook is absolutely essential to understanding the topic because of the multitude of perspectives that exist. One strategy that I have used to facilitate this type of learning is to require my students to be familiar with a subset of the most influential articles in macroeconomics. To accomplish this goal, I spent a part of each lecture carefully working through the arguments in these articles, which was then followed by in-class discussion. In addition, I used weekly quizzes to ensure that they had read the article prior to class, which, along with the in-class discussion, provided me with the feedback necessary to assess whether the students were learning the material.

In order to truly understand a subject, students must be familiar with the key disagreements that exist among the scholars in that field. One such area of disagreement in economics is in the study of business cycles. To ensure that my students understood the various theories that have been proposed to explain economic fluctuations, they were required to conduct a semester-long group research project examining one of the theories presented in class. Each group was required to defend the empirical validity of their assigned theory, provide an overview of the historical and intellectual factors that contributed to its emergence, and critique the other theories under consideration. This project culminated in a research paper and a “Battle of the Business Cycles” debate wherein each group had to present and defend to the entire class the theory that they had been assigned. In addition to the quizzes, problem sets, and exams, this project provided me with an additional data point to assess whether the students possessed an understanding of economic fluctuations and the theories that have been developed to explain them.

Learning how to use an analytical framework like that found in economics requires repetition; the more students are required to use economic theory to explain observed phenomena, the more reliable and precise their economic intuition becomes. One of the techniques that I used to ensure that my students were regularly applying economic logic was by assigning small research tasks each week that required the students to use the Federal Reserve’s Economic Database. My students were required to analyze phenomena like the behavior of interest rates during recessions and changes in the behavior of the demand for money over the course of the business cycle. These tasks provided the students with an opportunity to develop their economic intuition by applying the theories that we had discussed in class to real world data while at the same time providing me with the information necessary to assess whether my students were on track to achieve their learning objectives.

It is my belief that excellence in teaching is critical to becoming a world-class scholar. The pedagogical approach that I have briefly sketched here reflects the seriousness with which I take my responsibilities as an economic educator and has contributed to the consistently positive evaluations that I have received from my students.

Bryan CutsingerTeaching