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I will conclude with a series of questions (and answers) posed by students when I piloted this writing assignment in my own teaching in 2010.
Traditionally, most learning in the discipline is based on “chalk and talk” and teacher-centred, passive student learning.
Ben Stein’s character from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a popular caricature of this “dismal science” in the classroom: highly abstract concepts delivered in a monotonous voice, which ultimately sends the students to sleep.
Most Economics programs are designed with graduates and Ph D students in mind, even though they make up a miniscule number of students studying Economics: according to Frank, only 2% of American students who take an introductory economics subject major in economics (Frank, 2007).
The comparable figure in the UK is 10–15% for students taking an economics module in a non-economics program.
Frank uses the economic naturalist writing assignment in his introductory economics courses.
Students formulate their own question based on a real life observation and are encouraged to write free of algebra, graphs and complex terminology, in a manner understandable by a relative who has never studied economics (the so-called Grandma test) (Frank, 2007: see also).
The heterogeneous makeup of the student body in any introductory class requires an approach to teaching economics which can embed threshold concepts (Sloman and Wride, 2009: see also) in both students studying specialist economics degrees and non-specialists (Embedding Threshold Concepts Project, Staffordshire University).
A point raised by Gary Becker in the mid 1990s is sadly still pertinent: “Students have unnecessary difficulty learning economics because textbooks generally do not have enough good examples of real-world applications.” (Becker, 1996).
This pejorative term reflects the widely held view that this science is boring, inaccurate and gloomy (or, in line with Malthus, has gloomy predictions).
As a discipline, Economics has been slow to adopt innovative approaches to teaching (Becker, 2001, 2003; Becker and Watts, 1996, 2001).