Can you really teach economics by creating a Halloween candy frenzy in your class? A year ago, I would not have seriously entertained a question like this. Last week, I created such a frenzy myself. What changed? The answer is CTP, the Course Transformation Program.
I view the CTP as giving me permission to experiment and take risks in my class—to experiment with ideas that might seem crazy at first, but actually tie to solid research on how people learn and remember things. One thing we know from this research is that being emotionally involved is always good for learning. “You really want to get that consumption good (a KitKat) from across the border (the aisle) in exchange for your domestic asset (the blue play money)? Well, you first correctly need to identify that, from the blue country’s perspective, the KitKat flow will be a negative net export or a deficit on the current account. Paying with the blue play money will be an increase in foreigners’ holdings of domestic assets or a capital inflow.” Will students understand and recall the balance of payments accounts better through this than through my old boring examples? I sure hope so!
On the other hand, this way of teaching the basics of open economy macroeconomics is very time-consuming. As an economist, I tend to think in terms of opportunity cost. How much student learning am I giving up when I allow candy trade to take the place of (a lot of) precious lecture time? The answer to that question must be measured properly. And it is important not to automatically equate students having more fun in class (and possibly giving me higher scores on the CIS) with better learning outcomes. Having a better class experience is certainly a desirable goal, but ultimately my job is to facilitate learning. This is where a second aspect of the CTP will come into play: the resources dedicated to assessing and analyzing the effect that the redesigned courses have on student learning. I am very interested in seeing and sharing with you the results of the comparative study that the economics team set up last semester, in which we are comparing the learning that took place in the pre-redesign and the post-redesign courses.
The second set of observations from the post-redesign courses will be available at the end of the Spring 2014 semester. Until then, we are continuing with and refining the redesign work. And my lesson from last week: We need a better customs enforcement system. Otherwise, people sneak across the aisle and engage in black market international candy trade, messing up the accounts.