The subjects I teach are wide ranging and include basic microeconomics and macroeconomics, labour economics financial institutions and markets and the economic and social environment of business. In each, I have adopted the position that I want students to be intelligent consumers of media items. That is, my goal is to encourage students to become capable of interpreting media commentary related to the subject that they are studying. Being able to do so opens up a range of possibilities in their private and business lives because they are better positioned to at least try to understand what is going on around them. They still need to have a thorough understanding of the subject matter and they still have to think. But, in addition, the approach incorporates the real world readily with what they are learning and stresses the fact that they need to be capable of sensibly discussing what they read or hear in relation to what they are currently studying.
Using media to build critical thinking
To achieve this, all assessment tasks are centred on media articles. Often this means that students have to identify a media article (or series of media articles on a given topic) and interpret and evaluate the article in the context of the theory they have been learning. This will commonly involve critical thinking rather than the repetition of learning from the text or learning materials provided. For business students, learning in a subject should always include more than the basic subject matter. They need to be able to apply, in a variety of circumstances, what they learn, to take a stand and to defend their position.
What are the benefits?
The approach has a number of benefits:
- Students are kept up to date with the ‘facts’ related to their area of study much more readily than if sole reliance was placed on a textbook (which quickly dates);
- They can more readily identify common mistakes and misunderstandings in media articles;
- They can also recognise bias as opposed to argument and learn to accept argument rather than their own biases;
- They can come to understand that, on some issues, there is more than one approach or view that is valid and that often a number of different factors need to be taken into account;
- Perhaps most importantly they can see how theory can be usefully applied in practice to resolve issues, to defend their position or to identify the flaws in the position of others; and
- They can become more independent rather than accepting all that they read and hear uncritically.
While the approach places less emphasis on the technical approach to many of the subjects I teach, the subject remains intellectually demanding and stimulating for students. By working through real world examples drawn from the media, the conceptual understanding of the students is enhanced (especially when they choose articles on topics they have a personal interest in) and the lessons being presented are more readily learned because the student has had to think about their application – often in a variety of contexts.