Teaching is central to the mission of Washington and Lee. Small classes allow the economics faculty to adopt a conversational style in much of their teaching. Principles of economics classes have 25 or fewer students. Required courses for economics majors range in size from 20 to 25 students per section while upper-level classes typically have 20 or fewer students. Therefore, a Socratic approach to economics instruction is the norm at Washington and Lee. It is common for faculty to assign readings and engage students in conversations about the readings. Classroom discussion of an economic issue typically focuses on understanding of the relevant analytical framework and its implications for policy. This approach is ideal for integrating insights from other disciplines into economic analysis and for developing in students higher order cognitive abilities such as integration and evaluation.
Writing as a learning device is a fundamental component of economic education at Washington and Lee. Students are asked regularly to reflect and write. Professors often ask for a short abstract on key readings to facilitate classroom discussion. Students are frequently asked to write an essay that addresses an important question by developing and using an economic model to guide their thinking. A paper that presents the results of an empirical project where students develop and test a hypothesis is an essential component of the second course in the two-course statistics/econometrics sequence required of economics majors. The capstone course for economics majors is organized around a paper documenting a student's original research as guided by a faculty mentor in the department.
Faculty teach all of the classes offered by the Economics Department at Washington and Lee, and conversations that take place in the classroom often spill over into a professor’s office. Most members of the department share in the instruction of the courses on principles of economics. Each specialized upper-level course addresses a specific field within economics and is taught only by those professors who have advanced training in that field and who typically conduct their research in that field.
Members of the faculty regularly attend conferences aimed at enhancing educational skills from which they bring new teaching insights back to the classroom. The Economics Department also organizes regular seminars where scholars are invited to campus to talk with students and faculty about their research and how new ideas can be integrated into the curriculum at Washington and Lee.
Technical and audio-visual facilities support economic education at Washington and Lee. Each classroom in the Williams School is equipped with a state of the art computer that is wired to the Web and the Washington and Lee network. These classrooms have VHS and DVD capabilities and there is a computer lab in the Williams School that can be reserved for classroom use. The Williams School provides technical support staff to assist faculty and students in using these educational technologies.