Economics Network CHEER Virtual Edition

Volume 13, Issue 2, 1999

CTI Economics, 10 Years Young

Phil Hobbs

It seems hard to believe that it is 10 years since the CTI Centres were first established. Perhaps foremost among my impressions from this time is how the incredible initial contribution of a small group has since moved into the mainstream.

Amongst the CTI Centres, economics is one of the most focused subject areas. Compare it, for example, with the breadth of courses coming under the banner of CTI Engineering. This focused community made it easier to make an impact, yet focused can also mean small. The innovation per head of academic staff in engineering is no higher (perhaps lower) than economics, yet the volume fills reams more. A small discipline with a particularly strong emphasis on scholarship is a daunting prospect for an initiative that is fundamentally about improving the quality of teaching.

So it is with some pride that the economics community should reflect on the 10 years of the CTI. Far from a backwater in computer-based teaching innovation, economics has been at the forefront. There are some excellent recent examples of innovative approaches such as John Taylor’s Elementary Economics course videos or Manfred Gartner’s companion site for the Primer in European Macroeconomics textbook. There are also the perennial favourites such as SECOS and WinEcon.

What underlies the success of these (and the many other) products is that they “do” the content whilst the teaching staff can do the context e.g. how is this important? how does it relate to…? where else have we seen this? Good teachers lie at the heart of good computer-based learning.

The economics discipline has also led the way in demonstrating that effective computer-based materials need not be designed with bespoke tools. Excel can become a teaching tool more readily, and in many cases as effectively, than ToolBook. Whiz bang features and graphics might catch the eye, but even Nintendo generation students quickly tire of empty animation. A whiz bang software package can be trumpeted as a multimedia teaching solution and offer more animation than Disney but still fail. Once the novelty wears off it is the content that determines its efficacy.

Where next? The founding of the LTSN is, probably, a move in the right direction. As we enter the 21st century there is a question mark over whether we really should continue to single out technology. The last 10 years have shown us that the content and the people are the real critical success factors. The technology is just the vehicle that delivers innovation. My vote was for turning CTI in to Centres for Teaching Innovation.

The final observation on the last 10 years must be of the enormous work of the many individuals who have contributed to the development of computer-based teaching in the discipline.

Their work has delivered a great deal to the learning experience for many thousands of students and has been influential in bringing innovation into economics teaching. Amongst the great many who have contributed I am sure all would make particular note of Guy Judge’s role. As Editor of CHEER he has been pivotal in providing a professional and polished journal for innovators to share and from which to learn.

Phil Hobbs was the first full-time CTI Economics Project Manager, working with the centre from May 1990 to October 1992. He went on to Direct the Institute for Learning and Research Technology, which hosts CTI Economics, until August 1998. He currently works as a senior consultant with Gemini Consulting.

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