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La Trobe University

Case Study

CORE Econ has been an adaptable curriculum that the university has used to address issues that appeal to a diverse student cohort 

Name: David Walker
Name of Institution: La Trobe University
Type of institution: University
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Course: Modern Economics in a Changing World (within Bachelor of Commerce; Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics; Bachelor of Humanities, Innovation and Technology) (view syllabus)
CORE textbook: The Economy
Number of students: 250
Length of course: 15 weeks

The introduction of a new Bachelor of Commerce degree with high admissions requirements provided an opportunity for La Trobe University to identify an economics curriculum that would challenge those students. Dr David Walker, a lecturer in economics, had heard about CORE Econ from a keynote speech by project co-founder Professor Wendy Carlin in 2016 at the Australasian Teaching Economics Conference.

“I looked at all the resources and the approach of this text and thought it would be a good fit,” he says.

“I liked the way it extends students’ thinking, and the way it presents the data and then provides a framework to analyse it.”

The Economy textbook, which La Trobe has used since 2018, provides narrative and historical examples to help understand current events. In contrast to the standard neoclassical textbook, The Economy introduces students to economic concepts they would typically encounter later in an economics programme where the assumptions introduced in the first year are relaxed and they analyse the real world.

Over the last two years, the teaching team have worked to adapt the way they teach the CORE Econ curriculum. Rather than work through The Economy from chapter one, they have restructured the order they have introduced topics. For instance, they moved social interactions and game theory from early in the subject to the end. The subject begins with the big picture, that is, the long run economic development and growth since the industrial revolution, and then narrows down to microeconomic concepts.

The interactive elements and links provided in the CORE Econ material have also proved highly advantageous this year as tuition has moved online in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions. Dr Walker says the instructor resources and the other tools for communicating the material have been very effective.

“It does stimulate interest, but it’s not just the book — it’s the resources and approach overall,” he says.

Together with colleagues, he has carried out research to compare the outcomes of cohorts using CORE Econ with those taught using the Australian adaptation of Greg Mankiw’s Principles of Economics. Very preliminary findings have indicated better academic outcomes in subsequent subjects for the former group irrespective of their major field of study.

The La Trobe University student cohort is very diverse including those from a low socio-economic background and first in their family to go to university. The La Trobe Business School also has a high proportion of international students from Asia and other parts of the world.

For this diverse group the globally significant topics covered in CORE Econ, such as inequality and the environment resonate and help to stimulate interest in economics. On top of that is the fact that many students are doing a double degree, so students also studying law, for example, appreciate the focus on these concepts that the textbook highlights.


Published on 15 September 2021