Economics Network CHEER Virtual Edition

Volume 13, Issue 1, 1999

Some Remarks on Computer Assisted Learning in Germany

Harald Mattfeldt and Holger Paetow
Hamburg School of Economics and Political Science

In Germany there is no institution like CTI-CE, where CAL-activities are regularly and systematically observed and communicated. Therefore to review the CAL-scenery in Germany it is necessary to use the Internet as a main tool scanning the homepages of the economic departments of German universities for CAL offers. The second way is to look up the catalogues of important publishing houses. Furthermore there are two economic journals especially for students and therefore engaged in educational issues, which report upon CAL from time to time (Wirtschaftswissenschaftliches Studium; Das Wirtschaftsstudium). There are other economists who are developing CAL-software only for their own purposes. This short report is based only on information provided by Internet and on selected published software.

German universities are totally financed by the government. Professors are officials and employed for life. The proof of the hypothesis: "A good researcher is a good academic teacher!" is taken for granted. Therefore, educational ability is not required for an academic reputation and not a criterion for getting a chair in economics. Students in Germany do not pay any fees and there is no limit to the length of their study. Together with the rising problems in the labour market it is not surprising that there are students who study more than ten years without any examination.

It is not astonishing that a system with these elements is reluctant to launch necessary reforms by itself. But on the other hand to be able to guarantee an efficient education under the condition of vast rising numbers of students organisational and educational changes in the public universities are necessary and more urgent than ever. One indicator for this is the fact that in recent years the foundation of private universities accelerates. This often happens in co-operation with American universities. They have a more regulated timetable and a limit of the duration of the study. The use of modern media and computer aided learning and teaching is a matter of course. The demand for private universities is growing although they raise high fees.

These points had to be mentioned in advance so that the reader who is not familiar with the German academic system will understand why German universities are - compared with other countries (e.g. USA, Australia, Great Britain) - fairly late in developing CAL-software. Therefore, those roaming the CAL-countryside in the field of economics in Germany should not expect to find a rich harvest. The discussion about the installation of multimedia and CAL-software in higher education does not only take place in universities. Company foundations as the Bertelsmann and Heinz Nixdorf Foundation are sponsoring projects for the improvement of higher education (

Nearly all business and economics departments at German universities and colleges (Fachhochschule) nowadays maintain internet pages which mostly are only containing general information about departments, administration etc. and do not provide any learning support software except exercises, graphics, lecture scripts and lists of recommended textbooks. But there are some remarkable exceptions, for instance the interactive, JAVA-based learning program JEWEL (Java Enabled Worldwide Economic Learning) by Prof. Winfried Reiss, University of Paderborn. JEWEL contains numerous illustrations and tests about selected microeconomic subjects and uses many different interactive elements ((3-d-)graphics which can be altered by entering different values, multiple choice tests, questions to be answered), describes the objectives at the beginning of each lesson and a summary at the end and will be very useful for students with basic knowledge in microeconomics and which are using it in combination with normal textbooks.

Another good examples are the homepages of Prof. Lorenz and Dr. Lange. Here one can find several downloadable micro- and macroeconomic models as Excel-files as well as lecture scripts (micro- and macroeconomics, etc). They can be of good use for students of economics and can be fitted in every individual curriculum.

The Fernuniversität Hagen (University for Distance Learning in Hagen) recommends the PC-Trainer „Macroeconomics“ by Wolfram Laaser (programmed by Klaus-Peter Nischke) for their students ( It was published in 1996 and can be purchased by everyone for DM 98.- (£ 35.-). The program needs Windows 3.1 or 95/98. It contains the static and dynamic neo-classic and keynesian standard models (without and with public and foreign sectors) as well as the Mundell-Fleming-Model with fixed and flexible exchange rates. The models are presented by linear equations, flow charts are used to explain the causal relations and interdependencies. The stability of model equilibria are determined by using differential equations. It is not possible to change the structure or functions of the models. But built-in examples allow to find out how parameter variations effect the equilibrium and the stability of a model. In total the program gives a solid introduction to the main species of the model zoo of macroeconomics. But it requires already some knowledge of macroeconomic theory because the theoretical basis of the model equations itself is not implemented in the program.

Some publishers of scientific literature are also trying to develop a market for CAL-software. As an example the UTB (University Pocket Book)-Publishers shall be mentioned. UTB is a group of 14 publishing houses from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, founded in 1971. Their purpose is to provide students of all subjects with books they can afford, mostly in German. Since 1997 they offer electronic books and CAL-programs, too. As the latest catalogue shows only three programs have been published up to now. This indicates that it is not yet a booming segment of the market in Germany. All of the three refer to economics. The authors had the opportunity to test one of them („Lernprogramm Mikroökonomik“ by J.-H. Wiskow, UTB 8128, 1997, DM 89.-). Here a short review.

The program consists of different lessons which can be combined individually. During a lesson hypertext functions allow to use the built-in glossary which contains the definitions of basic microeconomic terms and concepts. Installed wav-files enable to get them in audio mode. Animated and interactive graphics visualise most of the topics. Numerous examples and tests gives the student the opportunity to check his knowledge and new abilities. Some tests demand the completion of a diagram. For this the cursor is converted to a drawing pen.

To support concentration a kind of gentle music is played during a whole session. We indeed were more distracted at first and, after a while, got a little bit drowsy. Summing up, this CAL-program offers an introduction to undergraduate microeconomics. Together with a textbook it can be used by students for preparing an introductory course in microeconomics and for home training. A lot of microeconomic concepts which are essential for microeconomic basics (e.g. game theory) are not presented.

A very sophisticated learning- and simulation tool for macroeconomics with considerable extent has been developed by the Institute of Industrial Research at the University of Muenster. The program is called MAKROMAT, meanwhile in its version 5.0. In addition to the standard program there is a version with a neuro-fuzzy-expectation generator. Both programs can be downloaded as freeware. Information is given under [Now at]. In one of the following editions of CHEER we will review this macroeconomic package.

The authors may be contacted by e-mail to or

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