Stephen Buckles is senior lecturer of micro and macroeconomics at Vanderbilt University. In our forthcoming webinar series, Why Innovative Educators are Using Interactive Content, Prof. Buckles will talk about his use of interactive textbooks in class, authoring and peer-review.

We caught up with Prof. Buckles beforehand to discuss how digital content is addressing changes in the way students learn and pay attention.

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How do you think students have changed since you’ve started teaching? 

They are much smarter and much more aware of the world around them. And they are motivated. They are also much more involved in and aware of technology and all the good—and challenges—that it can provide. As a result, there is a lot more competition for their time and interests.

How are the changes you’ve seen among students affecting the way you teach?

Faculty have much more competition for students’ attention and time—inside and outside of both the classroom and the course itself. At the same time, we have learned, in a wide variety of subjects, that students learn the most when they are actively involved in the process. They learn economics when they are asked to apply concepts, explain problems and talk about why something happens. That is, they are more likely to learn when they actually use economics to solve problems and answer questions.

Just reading a text or listening to me talk is not enough for them to walk away with a solid economic understanding. My role, to be truly effective, is to get them involved in the material inside and outside of class.

In light of this, what do interactive textbooks bring to the class?

Economics texts historically have been all text, with some real world examples, some graphs and, at the end of the chapter, a set of questions to review.

Interactive textbooks change that significantly. The goal is to get students involved in a meaningful way as soon as they open the textbook.

Students may be asked questions before even beginning to read the direct content. They will be given feedback. And then, the explanation or real world example is presented. Then they receive another question, which they are required to answer before going on. That’s followed by feedback and maybe even a follow-up question. When appropriate, students are asked to draw a graph. They’re given some feedback, and then a new request for a graph, and the cycle repeats.

In each step of the process, students think about concepts, problems, events, and then, based on the answers, receive feedback and appropriate recommendations. This is then repeated a number of times until they are likely to fully understand the idea and can use the concept in a wide variety of situations.

Research tells us that students are much more likely to walk away from this kind of experience knowing and being able to effectively apply concepts than if they were to simply read a description of the concepts being applied. That, of course, is our goal.  

Find out how much money your students could save if you ditch print textbooks.

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