Monday, November 7, 2011

Teaching Economics in the Downturn

I must begin with acknowledging the article "How should the financial crisis change how we teach Economics?" by Robert Shiller of Yale University in the Journal of Economic Education. Reading this article prompted me to consider my experience in the Economics class this term. Teaching Economics in an MBA class has always been a challenge. And the one question, I have to answer every session is "how is this going to help me". However difficult it may seem, this question from my ever curious students made me introspect on what I was making them learn.

I started the term with an HBR article on "The end of the rational consumer." This article provokes the student to challenge the basic premise on which economic principles are built - rationality of the consumer and his ability to further his self interest. The article questions the invisible hand, the revenge motive of customers and the questions the premises of behavioral economics. I followed this up with two other HBR articles when discussing consumer behavior - Understanding the post recession consumer and how to market in a downturn. Again in these articles we questioned the basic comparison between a post growth society and an emerging one.

Economics Education has to be contemporary especially in a business school context. As much as we need to focus on the framework of the theory, we also need to tap the world around us and connect the classroom to these experiences. Considering the changing economic paradigm, as teachers in this profession, we need to be able to create a motivating environment; one which questions the basic theory and also updates the research in the field with the stories from the business world.

Shiller's article talks of the challenges in teaching macroeconomics. Teaching the course for about 6 years now, I have realised that the business students need a more general understanding of the concepts and their usability and not necessarily the theoretical rigor that economics graduates go through. To make the sessions more connected to the real world, I used debates and book readings as part of the course. Student teams were allotted one of the Economics Bestsellers (Freakonomics, The World is Flat, Rogue Economics, Undercover Economist... to name a few). They came up with a presentation (in the form of cartoon strips, poems, crosswords, puzzles, treasure hunt etc..) of the book assigned to them, which were then put up in a showcase.

We also had a series of student debates on issues of current relevance in the course. These were structured to help the students deliberate and consolidate their understanding of the big picture of the world economy. This would also help them relate to the learning of concepts in the class with the real world situation.

Teaching Economics in the downturn is a greater challenge because in the process of evaluating the current situation, students also have to come to terms with questions of their career choices. It is important to make classroom learning environment vibrant with extensive student participation in times like these, as they get to question, challenge and critique the world around them, create opinions, appreciate diverse viewpoints and also emotionally connect to the changing economic paradigm.

My Economics classes this term were more exciting than ever. It has always been a challenge to engage a bunch of young minds especially an inquisitive one. Considering the dynamically evolving economic scenario, economics teaching is a lot of fun, challenge and hard work.

I hope I have done justice thus far!!!

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