Friday, October 05, 2007

Boring Econ 101 No More

I won't go to the college where the lecturers say that they don't know his/her subject any better than students. I give them money tuition and my time in exchange for them telling me what I don't know. That is why I don't get anything called the new way of (college) teaching method assuming basic premise abovementioned, in which students do lots of group work, and teacher acts at the margin as watchdog, err..., no, facilitator.

The problem lies elsewhere: many teachers fail to make lecture interesting. Putting aside the probability that they don't know the subject well nor catch up with the latest development in the field, you can suspect that it is because: first, they don't acquire the important communication skill. Or, second, they too much rely on, unfortunately, overwhelming textbooks unfriendly to current MTV generation.

Until not so long ago, when Freakonomics hit the market, economics professors (and profession) often fell into these problems. As a result, Econ 101 is no fun for many students, hence is of small use.

So what should teacher do to help students? I don't opt to drastically new teaching method. Just be accessible when speaking to those young minds. Try to read not only academic journals, but also recent (good) pop econ book -and blogs too. As a note, good pop econ books (Freakonomics, Undercover Economist, Discover Your Inner Economist, to name the few) do not contain (stupid) conspiracy theory.

The latest of such book aimed to aspiring Econ 101 teachers is coming from Robert H. Frank, The Economic Naturalist (HT: Justin Wolfers). Here's the appetizer, intro chapter. And if your connection is fast enough, check this funny, and bit corny, MTV Cribs folly of this Cornell's, Ben Bernanke's buddy, Econ professor.


  1. it's simpl, in a good research university, teaching is not important. professors can get tenure or a raise even if they teach poorly.

    so there is no incentive to do good teaching.


  2. Roby, I agree. Although in Indonesia, I believe that mostly the trade off is between teaching and any other thing but good research.

    On choosing college, this is Greg Mankiw's take.

    On tenure, Steve Levitt said "let's get rid of tenure"; while on other hand there is a whole pack of journal articles in JSTOR defending tenure, such as Carmichael, 1988, JPE, Vol: 96 no 3, and many others.

  3. what about if the title is changed?
    "no boring Econ 101 students no more".

    then, the class will be divided into 2 groups. one, A students who can cope with boring Econ 101 (maybe just 5%) and two, B/C students, who need some things as you mention so that no more boring Econ 101.

    hopefully, this is not the thing in the lecturers' mind. :)

    - dian -

  4. Dian, I guess even those top 5% might like to have Econ 101 more fun and, I must add here, insightful.

  5. I've read that "Economic Naturalist" and that book really an inspiring book.

    I've found several cases that I can apply to Labor Economics course as well in that book to motivate student in a way to understand the basic idea of math or graph.

    I also give them assignment in similar way, e.g: "what is the impact of new portable vacuum cleaner to a young married couple's decision to work?" After I give them basic idea of time allocation theory (working versus leisure in labor supply theory) and household production function, the class suddenly become very active. Students rise up their opinion and some of them already able to apply the theory in a "sensible" way. And after that, I only watched their discussion. It was being close to collaborative learning method.

    Another book to add your list is "Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science" by Charles Wheelan. Not so "practical" compare to "Economic Naturalist", but the explanation also able to answer - what I called - "A Grandma Test". It is some kind like a question that required answer as simple to understand as it will serve to our non-economist grandma.

  6. she-who-must-not-be-named10/08/2007 11:48:00 PM

    what i sometimes do is wearing high heels and mini-skirt to class and mention this book

    i sure get some attention. =D

    if anything else fails, i'll take some of cafe salemba's stuff. =D