Arlene Joyce Furfero, Ph.D., J.D.
I teach because I like to see light bulbs go on in students' heads.
People have often referred to economics as the "thinking man's science." Next to philosophy, it is the second most disciplined science that seeks to foster critical analytical skills in its students. Is it any wonder, then, that students shudder at the thought of sitting through a required economics course or shrink from taking economics as an academic major?
My goal in educating students is to teach them not what to think, but how to think. It's the difference between giving a man a fish and teaching him how to fish. Once a student understands how to think, the subject matter becomes much less complex and overwhelming and easier to understand.
Nowhere is this more evident than in my specialized areas of macroeconomics and macroeconomic policy. Macroeconomics is divided into two schools of thought --- the monetarist school and the Keynesian school. Each school has developed theories within totally separate and distinct methodologies. When my students press me for an answer on whether I am a monetarist or Keynesian, I say, "Neither --- I'm a methodologist." As a methodologist I set the outer bounds or limits to how an economic phenomenon may be analyzed.
From that vantage point, my teaching style alternates between "sage on stage" and "guide on the side." As "sage on the stage," I define major concepts and give the students helpful hints about how to organize their thought processes. As "guide on the side," I ask lots of questions to elicit discussion from the students on how the materials from their textbook and other readings can be used to analyze particular economic phenomena. In particular, I assign contemporary news articles for reading and then weave the facts from the news articles into our theoretical discussions about how the economy works and what policies might be appropriate in a given situation.
I firmly believe that a teacher must be a good listener. I particularly use the Socratic discussion format because it allows me to listen to my students. By listening, I can hear which students are learning and which are not. Listening also gives me important feedback on the materials and how the students are thinking. I learn a lot from listening to my students. I learned very early in my teaching career that students do not identify with some basic economic concepts, because they have not experienced them the way adults have.
Sometimes it is little things. For example, most undergraduate students do not understand the concept of money, because they almost always used cash or a credit card. They did not write checks or think of their checking account balance as "money." While this trend has changed over the years and most students now have checking accounts (and, nowadays, use debit cards), the initial feedback forced me to revise the way I was teaching the concept of money so that, at the conclusion of the course, monetary policy had more meaning to my students. Sometimes it is more major things. For example, the graduate students, who are already working, have particular job-related concerns about the economy.
I also believe that students should have fun while learning. Having students work in groups has forced them to share their learning experiences with others rather than to be constantly competing with one another for grades. It has also fostered a stronger interest by students in the course work and has eliminated cheating. After all, if students are already working with and learning from the competition, they have no basis or incentive for cheating!
Finally, I must say that I understand time moves in only one direction. I am a firm believer in new technologies. About 18 years ago, as the Internet was gaining popularity, I recognized its potential for education. In January 1997, I completed the design of my own website www.drfurfero.com and uploaded it to the Internet for my students. In December 1999, St. John's asked for volunteers to teach online. I volunteered, and have been teaching an online course per semester continually since then.
In summer 2000, I was assigned to teach Managerial Economics and Forecasting online. One of my colleagues asked me how can you teach forecasting online? I really did not understand the question, because for me, my teaching methods are well-suited to teaching almost any subject matter online. After all the Internet is simply another forum for the kinds of discussions I have always held with my students in the classroom.
I find that the new technology offers an invaluable educational delivery system, and I am constantly seeking new ways to use the technology to improve online education. All of my course materials are either posted on my website or directly hyperlinked to materials on other websites. My courses now incorporate chatrooms, threaded message boards (discussion forums/conferencing), videos/YouTube videos, interactive diagrams, eBooks, emails, etc. For better or worse, I am now available to my students 24/7.
CAVEAT: I have intentionally avoided the use of social media as an educational platform, because I find that it is TOO distracting. Using the new online technologies requires a delicate balancing act of what is and what is not an effecive pedagogical environment for students to learn economics. Too much new technology can put students on "technology overload."
A. Joyce Furfero, Ph.D., J.D.
Associate Professor of Economics and Finance
Tobin College of Business
St. John's University
8000 Utopia Parkway
Jamaica, New York 11439
Bent Hall 317
Tel: (718) 990-7350
Fax: (718) 990-1868