October 2013

An Open Forum on Actuarial Education – Summary of Participant Discussion

By Mark Maxwell

During the 48th annual Actuarial Research Conference held at Temple University from July 31- Aug. 3, 2013, I was able to participate in an open discussion where practitioners shared their ideas about teaching and student development. We hoped to learn new techniques to motivate students, develop effective thinking skills, and improve student creativity, curiosity, and communication skills.



Picture courtesy of Natalia Humphreys from the University of Texas at Dallas (from left to right: Ron, Margie, Brian, and Maxwell)

Ron Gebhardtsbauer expertly moderated our discussion. I was joined by panelists Margie Rosenberg and Brian Hartman. In this article I will briefly share some ideas from my notes that you might consider to use in your classroom (or office). Any incorrect phrasing of the idea or mistake in acknowledgement is entirely my fault.

When handing in assignments, exams, or written reports, Ron would like his students to think that they are turning in work to their employer. One of Ron’s favorite assignments is to have his students sell insurance to their parents. Ron has students read assignments and write a synopsis of the material before each class. Ron claims that students like writing these synopses. - Ron Gebhardtsbauer, Penn State University.

Note: I stole the synopsis idea for use in an inquiry-based-learning probability course that I am currently teaching.

Is there value in having peer-assessed writing activities? - Rina Ashkenazi, University of Minnesota.

Students write a report on pension plans. Louis tells students in advance about grading expectations. - Louis Adam, Universite Laval.

Note: Louis earned a Temple University T-shirt and this mention as prizes for the best participant contribution to our forum discussion.

Student projects have two grades: 50% communication and 50% technical accuracy. Unacceptable reports are returned ungraded to the student. - Mary Hardy, University of Waterloo

A new writing intensive course “Actuarial Mathematics in Practice” which consists of three 5-week modules taught by visiting faculty. Teams and instructors are emailed grading rubrics for executive summaries and team presentations prior to submitting their work. - Laurie Derechin, University of Minnesota.

Vicky wants to incorporate real-life examples into SOA Exam FM material. - Vicky Zhang, University of Toronto.

Should a student lease or take a loan for a new car? This project was inspired by a question from one of Margie’s students.

Use a beach ball in class. The last student to share their work then throws the ball to another student who speaks next. - Marjorie Rosenberg, University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Curtis has a serious written and oral communication requirement. Teams of students write a 10-page position paper on a topic like “Privatizing Social Security” or “Should Hurricane Insurance be Mandatory”. Curtis and opposing team members grade the 10-page position paper. Then both teams get together and rewrite their paper.

Curtis described a project from a second semester MLC class where groups of four students form life insurance companies. Each student group prices the policies and completes reserve calculations. Then Curtis plays God and begins to kill policyholders. - Curtis Huntington, University of Michigan and sole recipient of my joke about Connecticut.

Steve created 10 practice exams for his 1-credit Exam P seminar. Software grades this homework. - Steve Meskin, University of Maryland – Baltimore County.

Krupa shared that every major has a writing component. Groups of 3 or 4 students have case competitions with judges from industry. - Krupa Viswanathan, Temple University (host University to the 48th ARC).

Kirk shared two projects that he uses to motivate his students. The first idea involved the financial impact of passing a professional actuarial examination. He incorporates time value of money and inflation factors.

Can you finish a triathlon? Kirk recommends that his students watch the people competing in an Iron Man triathlon in Madison. His goal is for students to realize the importance of what they do, not who they are. - Kirk Peter, University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Ohio State has an Actuarial Practicum run by local actuaries (consulting, insurance, and retirement) who introduce a topic, assign projects, and return to judge student presentations and make comments for improvements. There are two 3-page memos required of each team. The first memo is a technical memo as a manager or team leader written to employees. The second memo is from the perspective of an actuary written to a manager and client. - Chunsheng Ban, The Ohio State University

[At this point, our conversation moved to ethics and how people deal with students not submitting authentic work.]

Has anyone done anything on the ethics side, like green bonds or green mortgages? Can we have another incentive other than just money? - Vicky Zhang, University of TorontoLouis Adam described a professionalism course taught a Laval. Students watch the movie Billion Dollar Bubble.

There are many opportunities to bring up ethics during Derivative Markets material: ENRON, AIG, payday loans, and negative amortization. – Jeff Beckley, Purdue UniversityMary Hardy asks students, “How transparent are the designs of actuarial products?”

Ethics are taught in the first lecture as a way of welcoming students into the actuarial profession. – David Varodayan, University of Illinois – Urbana-ChampaignCurtis reminded us that beginning December 2008, students who sit (or register) for an SOA exam are subject to seven rules of conduct: www.soa.org/files/pdf/edu-code-cond-candidates.pdf‎. The Casualty Actuarial Society Code of Professional Ethics for Candidates was effective January 2008.

There is software available, such as TurnItIn.com, that can scan student papers and report the probability of plagiarism. – Demonstrated by David Smith, CASS Business SchoolFor Excel assignments, check on Properties – Last Updated By. – Ping Wang, St. John’s University

Have students do the same assignment like pricing endowment insurance, but give each student different age of insured, interest rate, term, and/or mortality assumption. – Chris Groendyke, Robert Morris University.A student was accused/expected of cheating. The class was told of the instance of cheating and offered a choice to either confess or await the consequences of the instructor taking a more severe step and reporting to the dean of students. The student expected of cheating (and another unsuspected student) confessed. - Eric Ulm, Georgia State.

Vytaras Brazauskas, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, randomizes his questions.

Earlier in our discussion, Vytaras made the adroit comment on the amount of instructor grading needed to be a CAE university.

We left our discussion excited to try something new. Thanks to J. David Cummins and the other conference organizers of the 48th ARC for providing us the opportunity to share ideas and for hosting another wonderful conference. We look forward to having our next session in Santa Barbara. We encourage you to share your classroom projects and teaching ideas in more detail by submitting your own article to expandinghorizonseditor@soa.org.

Mark M. Maxwell, PhD, ASA, is Clinical Professor of Mathematics, Paul V. Montgomery Fellow, and Actuarial Studies Program Director at The University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at maxwell@math.utexas.edu.