Katarzyna Krajniewska, Junius Olivier
The First Year Challenge is an innovative way of creating greater sense of community among first year students and introducing them to the field of economics and LSE heritage. Small groups of students explore London together and, given sets of clues, produce a short video at the end of the project with a prize for the best video.
All first year students in the Department of Economics.
The First Year Challenge was run for the first time by the Department of Economics at the beginning of the 2018/2019 academic year.
All of our freshers were divided into the groups of 5 (all students within a group shared the same Academic Mentor) and sent to various London locations where they met their peers. Prior to the meeting, each student received a clue which he/she was asked to research in advance. The clues were like puzzles – they added up to the big picture once put together. Examples included but were not limited to: (1) economic terms (2) diagram (3) table (4) title of an article or book (5) quote (6) photo (7) date (8) name of a place (9) a person’s recollection of an event directly related to the FYC theme.
In order to complete the challenge, students had to produce a short video (3 mins) on an economics related theme. This year they examined the 2008 Financial and Economic crisis through the lens of the never-ending Hayek versus Keynes debate to give it a bit of a connection to the LSE (Note: Hayek lectured at the LSE from 1931 to 1950 and was Professor of Economic Science and Statistics). With the school’s motto in mind: Rerum cognoscere causas, the tasks encouraged students to analyse the crisis according to three aspects: (1) causes and (2) response, both of which carried implications for its (3) consequences and lessons learnt 10 years on.
The initial judging was carried out by Academic Mentors who chose the best video from those submitted by their Mentees. 18 out of 51 videos were shortlisted and final winners were selected by a panel of judges. During the project students interacted with their group members, their Academic Mentors and Undergraduate Tutors.
The project lasted 3 weeks and had 3 main aims:
1) to create greater sense of community in the LSE Economics Department (develop sense of identity and togetherness, introduce students to the School’s history, facilitate a closer relationship among students and between students and their Academic Mentors)
2) to engage the students in academic research early on (introduce students to the ideas of individual and peer research, networking and to develop their understanding of a significant economic phenomenon)
3) to encourage peer exchange and learning through a variety of mediums (develop students’ presentation skills and introduce them to the idea of communicating their knowledge/research to
a wider audience).
As we put a lot of emphasis on strengthening the sense of community, students were encouraged to explore London together and the Ultimate London Explorer Prize was awarded. They also emailed Undergraduate Tutors and Academic Mentor their group pictures as well as shared them via Social Media. Academic Mentors were encouraged to respond to those photos and provide moral support to their teams.
• Project (duration 3 weeks)
- Monday 24th September (week 0): detailed instructions released to students
- Friday 28th September: groups meet in the assigned locations and share their photos
- by Wednesday 5th October: groups meet with their Academic Mentors to discuss their work on the project
- Monday 15th October: submission deadline (online)
• Judging process
- by the end of October: Academic Mentors judge their groups and provide feedback to Undergraduate Tutors; each Mentor selects one top group of theirs
- Final round early November: The Panel of Judges selects winners from 18 (out of 51) shortlisted video
- 15th November: winners announced at the Pizza and Talk social event
Note on locations:
- Each group was sent to two different locations.
- Initial locations were linked to either causes or to responses of the crisis.
- The locations and/or clues had some association with the consequences of the crisis
- The second location was directly linked to consequences of the crisis.
- Groups supervised by the same Academic Mentor were assigned different locations to avoid spillover effects
The First Year Challenge, however, was not only a project on its own, but also a part of a greater package. While the FYC involved only first year students, the follow up events were open to all our undergrads.
(1) Breakfast with Laurence Ball (following the School wide talk: The Fed and Lehman Brothers: setting the record straight on a financial disaster), during which students were encouraged to ask Prof. Ball questions on Lehman Brothers and the crisis in general.
(2) The Queens Question Challenge: on the 10th anniversary of the Queen opening the NAB and asking the (in)famous ‘why did it happen’ question, we asked students exactly same question. They posted their answers on the boards and colour-coded them according to their year cohort.
(3) 3 Pizza and Talk Events (one for each year cohort): where students listened to a short talk on the history of LSE and Econ Department from various perspectives. During one of the talks, the winners of the FYC were announced.
(4) Peter Oppenheimer’s, chief global equity strategist and head of Macro Research in Europe at the Goldman Sachs, talk on the unusual policy setting post the financial crisis, current trends in the global economy and prospects for financial markets. Later, some of the students joined Peter and us for the dinner.
(5) The Econ Society Poster competition and Symposium - Inspired by our FYC, first year students organized the Brexit poster competition and a follow up Symposium on The Next Great Crisis which made it into The New York Times. The speech given by Sir Jon Cunliffe (Deputy Governor for Financial Stability at the BoE) can be found here.
In case of any questions and/or for further details (such as detailed team instructions) please contact Kasia (K.A.Krajniewska@lse.ac.uk) and Junius (J.M.Olivier@lse.ac.uk).
Low NSS and TEF scores prompted LSE in general, and the Department of Economics in particular, to introduce many changes and create new positions within the department, including the role of Undergraduate Tutor. The idea of doing something for our year 1 has been in the air for a while, but we thought it should be something exceptional and with close links to LSE heritage and identify. We took the general idea of a video competition (run for example by UCL and Bristol universities) and tweaked it to fit our needs.
Initial findings suggest the FYC had a significant impact on our students, however, we are still in the process of investigating it further, particularly in terms of students’ experience and their sense of community within the Department and the School. So far, we gained feedback from Academic Mentors (via surveys) and some informal feedback from students.
As a result of the challenge, both students and Academic Mentors found it easier to bond, and students found the project innovative and stimulating. Some comments suggest they were proud to be part of the challenge and the LSE community. We also noticed that the engagement of first year students in other activities (such as the Queen’s Question Challenge we organized later) was much higher than the engagement of year 2 and 3 students. The same can be said about social events turnout. While there might be more factors affecting our observations, the FYC is clearly one of them.
We want to run the First Year Challenge in the following year too, with a different theme though, so each year has its own unique package. We also plan to engage current students to facilitate networking between different years.
We found that the key motivating factor for the students to engage with the project was that the challenge was well connected to the discipline they came to study and the heritage of the Department and the School at large. Any similar project should take that into account.
Advanced planning is essential and contingency plans must be thought of.
The challenge should be followed by other related events so that students feel there is a sense of continuity and therefore view their participation as worthwhile.