Remember those days before the big midterm? You’ve reviewed the book, you’ve reviewed the class notes, and now you have 15 questions about what you’ve read that you just can’t answer. You get together with your study group, but that only clears up five of the questions—now everyone in the study group is obsessing about the other ten. The undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs) are having a help session, but it’s during an hour when you have a class. The TA’s office hours were two days ago. The professor is having a review session just before the exam, but that’s cutting it pretty close.
That’s a classic economic problem. There are many possible sources of tutorial help, but they occur on a fixed schedule. The many students in our core classes study, and come up with unanswered questions, on their individual timetables. What’s the solution?
At UNC Economics, the solution is EconAid. EconAid is both a place, and a promise, for our struggling Economics students. The place is Room 009, a repurposed classroom in the basement of Gardner Hall. The promise is that during a fixed number of hours each day the room will be staffed with a professor (or TA or ULA) who can answer your questions on subject matter from any of the core classes.
Professor Kalina Staub came up with the idea, and implemented it during the summer sessions in 2016 with financial support from the UNC Summer School. We evaluated it after the summer sessions were completed, and the UNC Economics Department agreed to sponsor it for the 2016/2017 academic year. It’s not very expensive: in many cases the instructors, TAs and ULAs are just spending their scheduled office hours in 009 Gardner. For those EconAid hours that aren’t covered in this way, the Economics Department funds graduate students on an hourly basis to answer questions.
Student responses to the innovation? Very positive. Brooke Mundy, a History Education major and a first-year student from Black Mountain, says:
“The EconAid Center is always a great place to be! Sometimes I go in there to work on my Econ assignments without having any questions because it is such a quiet place with a great atmosphere to work. Any time I do go in with questions, they are answered in a way that I understand and know I will remember. I am very grateful for the EconAid Center!”
Professor Staub teaches an upper-level course (Economics 480 – Labor Economics) and the introductory course (Economics 101). She’s also very pleased with the outcome.
“Before problem sets are due and before exams office hours get much busier with up to 20 students in the center at one time. It is nice to be able to use the space to work problems out on the board together instead of trying to address each student’s questions individually in my office.”
We also find groups of students using the EconAid space at night and on weekends for joint study sessions. It’s that Gardner Hall magic—it makes studying economics easier at any time of day!