Latest innovations: calculus popups and economic debates

Wed 2nd July 2014 | Blog

Last week was an important milestone for the CORE project: many of our contributors met at the Oxford Martin School in Oxford to review what we have done so far, and what we still need to do before the course materials for Introduction to Economics are ready to be used later this year at UCL and UMass Boston. The result: a long to-do list.

Alvin Birdi of Bristol University, coordinator of The Economics Network and Ashley Lait of The Economics Network organised for our draft material to be reviewed by a diverse group of teachers and students and reported back on what our reviewers liked, and what they thought we could do better. The good news: they liked our real-world relevance, the way we teach models by applying them to historical and current issues, the ebook’s interactivity, and the choices of topics.

But our reviewers also had many suggestions. Some were so consistent that we have already adopted them, and will integrate them with our material.

Improvement one: the translation into calculus of the material taught in the text in diagrams. Students and teachers who want the calculus version of a model can click through to it.  So, while it is possible to use the CORE materials without any calculus, it will be easy to use them in a course with calculus as well.  We already had one type of popup called an “Einstein”, which helps students deal with difficult material so, in honour of the inventor of calculus, we decided to call this new aid a “Leibniz” (some team members would have preferred a “Newton”).

Improvement two: students quite reasonably want to know when, and how, economists disagree about the material they will be taught. So the second new feature will be a series called “When economists disagree”.  This stresses the unsettled nature of economic knowledge on some important issues, but also how economists sometimes manage to settle their differences. For example, we explain the debates about how we should discount environmental costs to future generations, whether homo economicus is an adequate assumption for the range of decision-making economists address, how big is the multiplier, and the effect of the minimum wage on employment and inequality.

As a result of the feedback, we will also be providing more ways students can test themselves, and more links to further reading.

At the workshop, we explored the use of in-class experimental games with videos from the classes of Juan Camilo Cardenas at Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, and agent-based and other simulation techniques for introductory students demonstrated by Rob Axtell of George Mason University, Washington DC. We are also working out how to translate our eBook into French, Hindi and Spanish.