Teaching Statement

Teaching Statement

My teaching philosophy can be succinctly encapsulated in a few words: learning economics in the classroom should be conducive to students thinking outside the box.

Economics is close to our daily life. Students should be encouraged to confront and cope with economic topics by thinking beyond the scope of their majors and the boundary set by the curriculum. For example, at the end of my principles course, a student should be able to confidently talk about how a financial crisis affects a typical household, even if she is a computer science major or so. I envision every student to be a qualified citizen with a global view. Therefore, I feel responsible for equipping them with essential tools and mindsets to deal with new challenges in this fast-changing world. I strive to do so by adopting an even mix of theoretical concepts, empirical analysis, and their relevance to current events. In my experience, students who see a concept or an idea borne out by evidence (which would be better coming from occurrences in daily life) generally internalize and articulate it more successfully.

During my Ph.D. and the ensuring academic career, I treasure every chance to improve my teaching through direct communication with students. Empowering students with diversified backgrounds in disparate institutions requires me to put down my prejudice and heartedly listen to students’ needs. I rejoice to do so simply because it is students’ learning that defines good teaching. Deep in my heart, I admire those student-athletes who take good care of schooling and training and those first-generation kids who take multiple jobs to reduce their debt burden. Being patient and talking with them not only unleashes their potential but also constitutes self-fulfillment for me.

I model my own teaching after those who left a profound influence on me – mainly those instructors who succeeded in conveying the importance of concepts with sufficient historical background and empirical relevance to our daily life. To achieve this, I use a combination of approaches, which involve lecture, discussion, and feedback:

As to the lecture, I learn from the structure of my selected textbook but frequently extend beyond, especially for some historical content and practical applications. The history of economics is a roadmap for encountering, solving, and reflecting on economic issues. Without a proper introduction of the social background, I may merely iterate an economic concept rather than teach a lesson in macroeconomics to the students. History stories and case studies are proven effective in attracting students’ attention and deepening their comprehension. For example, the story of pouring milk into rivers and a case study of the Great Depression facilitate students’ understanding of some critical features of Keynesian economics.

Furthermore, I foster learning from peers with two approaches. One approach is to raise application questions. How do you apply a concept or model to explain variations in economic data? Students are encouraged to work in groups to identify the discrepancy between theories and empirical evidence and suggest reasonable explanations. The other approach is to establish an online community for students to ask questions to their peers along their learning process. In this sense, the instructor becomes the facilitator who empowers rather than teaches students.

Last but not least, I always make sure that students can reach me. Since the bargaining of points or chances of exam retake is ruled out from the get-go by a detailed announcement in the first class period, I receive abundant, meaningful feedback about my course through emails and face-to-face communication. This feedback is critical to ensure the quality of my course and my proper use of students’ time.

I am constantly looking to improve my teaching abilities. Observing classes of more experienced faculty and discussing teaching tools and approaches with them are very helpful. I love teaching because, in my opinion, it is a lot like research. To me, teaching a class is like writing a paper; it is a very organic thing. It often takes on a life of its own. It evolves in ways I cannot always predict, and as it unfolds and grows, I feel I am developing and learning, which at the end of the day, is what has drawn me to a life in academia.

Zhengyang (Robin) Chen
Assistant Professor in Economics

My research interests include Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics, Time Series Analysis and Financial Economics.