Economy, Society, and Public Policy third release, and innovation in Bristol

By Tim Phillips
Mon 13th August 2018 | Blog

Today (13 August 2018) we are releasing the final three units of both Economy, Society, and Public Policy (ESPP), our course materials for non-specialists, and the companion data projects, Doing Economics (DE).

Over the summer we launched our beta versions of Units 1 to 5 and 6 to 9, and so this makes a full set of beta units in both projects. Don’t be misled by the ‘beta’ label: they are complete, ready to use if you’re studying, and ready to incorporate into your course if you are teaching.

As always, please let us know how you get on. We have found that crowdsourcing improvements from as wide a population as possible helps us to improve more quickly, and we will be developing and refining both ESPP and DE during the coming year based on your feedback.

In this release of ESPP, Unit 10 is on ‘Banks, money, housing, and financial assets’, covering what money is, where it comes from, bubbles, and bailouts. Unit 11 is on ‘Market failures and government policy’, dealing with the problem of external effects, how they arise, examining whether private bargaining can resolve them or whether governments need to intervene. Finally, Unit 12 completes the course by looking at the respective roles of ‘Governments and markets in a democratic society’. We look at how markets and governments attempt and sometimes fail to create efficiency and fairness, and how democracy constrains the actions of governments.

In DE, the three projects are on ‘Characteristics of banking systems around the world’ (Unit 10), ‘Measuring willingness to pay for climate change mitigation’ (Unit 11), and ‘Government policies and popularity: Hong Kong cash handout’ (Unit 12).

We have been working flat out to bring these to you, but there has been one delay: the DE projects in R have taken longer than we anticipated. We will release the remaining projects in R in the autumn. Meanwhile, all DE projects are now complete and available in Excel format. As always, all our material is free and open access online.

How can teachers use the material? Many will choose to teach ESPP and DE sequentially, from Unit 1 to Unit 12. But in Bristol an innovative experiment is using our material to help create entirely new courses.

Bristol Futures: ‘An innovative way of teaching’

We briefly covered the plans for Bristol Futures at the beginning of the summer in our podcast. In short, the University of Bristol is providing a range of innovative learning resources and extracurricular activities for students (and also for the wider public) to develop skills to help students can be adaptable and successful graduates, both in their future careers and in society.

Bristol has been teaching CORE to its economics students since our first beta, and has helped enormously in the development of the materials. Now it is creating a suite of Bristol Futures courses available as options to students across the University. These will be in three broad areas: ‘Innovation and Enterprise’, ‘Sustainable Futures’, and ‘Global Citizenship’. One of these courses will be based on ESPP and especially DE. It is intended to teach practical data-handling and statistical skills with some underlying economic theory. The material and the datasets used will focus on global inequality, innovation and sustainability.

“It’s a challenge because CORE’s material wasn’t written for Bristol Futures, so we have to choose what works well,” says Christian Spielmann, reader of economics education in the School of Economics, Finance and Management at Bristol. In some cases, the fit is better than for others: our strong emphasis on global inequality and power chimes well with the aims of that course, and DE has projects on both climate change and inequality, but ESPP and DE have less emphasis on innovation – although that is the focus of Unit 21 of The Economy.

So the team, led by Professor Alvin Birdi, is both adapting our text and writing fresh content to create data-driven courses that will suit the format and the audience.

Bristol Futures isn’t just innovating what the content of a course should be, but also rethinking teaching styles. It is flipping the classroom so that students complete their exercises together. “Each week we will have a two-hour hands-on Excel seminar with students,” Spielmann explains, “There will be three instructors circulating and supporting them we break every ten or twenty minutes to discuss what we’re doing. DE is a great starting point for that, but first we need to explain the theory behind what we doing, which is where the material from ESPP comes in. So each week we have one webinar in which will talk about the theory behind what we will be doing in the seminar.”

The students will be assessed on group and individual projects. They will be asked to prioritise and communicate the results they have derived to a specified audience, and choose which media to use – videos, blogs, news articles – and they will choose which assessments will count for their final mark.

As Birdi says, “The economics they learn will set the data in context, and hopefully show them how useful economic thinking can be when used in the right way.”

It’s too early to know how students will respond, but the project has galvanised interest in both the economics department and Digital Education services, which has been helping to adapt the material and structure the webinars. “This will be really exciting, Spielmann says, “I feel we are able to teach these skills and topics now to people who normally wouldn’t try them. And something like this gives us a great opportunity to try out innovative pedagogy. I’m pretty sure that if it goes well, I’m going to be using it in my economics teaching in the future.”

A challenge for CORE

Which leaves CORE, and especially EQuSS, the project that has created ESPP and DE, with its own exciting challenge: we hear every week from innovative teachers like those at Bristol, who are exploring how to teach our material using new technology and innovative pedagogy. For them, creating a course becomes less about which textbook to adopt, and more about how they can adapt and tailor materials to their needs.

The more we can learn about how you use and adapt what we provide, the more we can make this job easy to do. In 2014 we made our material open access, and licensed it using Creative Commons, partly because we thought we could encourage teachers to experiment and create courses that mix our material with other sources. We know this is happening but we need to know more about what you need. Should we be making CORE’s material more modular? Do you need more data exercises, a larger question bank, more videos, or online delivery?

We’re also exploring ways that our community can share their adaptations more easily, and collaborate on open projects to extend CORE. “If Bristol Futures goes well and we create new material that works then there’s no reason why we can’t make it available to others,” Spielmann says, “I think this is a really interesting way forward.”