If you had ten minutes in which to enthuse to a colleague or student about how the internet is useful to economists, which sites would you urge them to try out? How would you advise them to find useful material? We faced such questions this year as we created a tutorial on finding and evaluating internet resources in economics. That tutorial, titled The Internet Economist, has just gone online, and this article explains what you and your students can get out of it, as well as some of the background.
The Internet Economist combines chatty text, examples and links into a tutorial on how the internet can guide economics learning, teaching and research. Structured in small chunks, it has optional self-test quizzes and exercises at the end of each section. There is no charge and no need to log on: just go to the URL http://www.economics.ltsn.ac.uk/interneteconomist/ .
It comprises four sections.
Tour presents key internet sites in different categories such as news, data and learning materials.
Discover introduces some ways to find economics resources on the web and discusses how you would choose between different strategies.
Review discusses some issues of quality, for instance how you can tell whether a document found on the web is authoritative.
Reflect summarises practical ideas for efficient use of the internet and gives some fictional scenarios illustrating internet advantages and pitfalls.
Each section has areas aimed at teachers, researchers and students of economics. These three strands run through the whole tutorial. For example, there are scenarios in the Reflect section for a hypothetical student using the internet to research an essay, a teacher looking for online texts relevant to a new course, and a masters student surveying internet research sources.
The navigation system allows you to read as much or as little of the tutorial as you like. There is a facility to view the current page, section or whole tutorial in printable form. We have also included a glossary, accessible from every page, to explain internet-related terms and abbreviations.
Economists who are already familiar with the web, including most readers of CHEER, will have heard many the resources discussed in the tutorial. However, we still recommend that you give it a read through, missing out the quizzes, as you may well find new sites for your bookmarks and ideas for ways to employ the internet in teaching or research.
One way in which we hope it will be a great help to lecturers is as a resource to recommend to their students. The tutorial will demystify a lot of issues about the quality of internet resources and will show how research on the internet can support their learning. An intended result is that lecturers will have to field fewer questions about the basics of the internet. If you are setting up a course web page, Internet Economist may be helpful as source of links as well as a recommended link in its own right.
If you have not yet thought about whether to use the internet in your research process, or how much of your research time to spend using sites such as the WoPEc working paper archive, some time spent with the tutorial and its links will help you decide. For similar reasons, it will be worth recommending the tutorial to new research students or to less internet-aware colleagues.
The aim of this tutorial was to help people make efficient use of the internet, getting the best value with the least wasted time. There was no agenda to promote any particular internet site or even to promote the internet as a whole. We state outright that the internet itself cannot teach you economics; that it is just one set of resources with its own strengths and disadvantages. We also make it clear that anything can be published on the internet, without the barriers of peer review, editing or even proofreading. The section on searching the web warns readers that search engines and gateways do not index the entire web and hence that no single search strategy is guaranteed to find a particular document. However, the strategies we recommend show you how to make the best of these circumstances.
The extent and manner in which the internet can help someone's work depends on the individual, so to a large extent our work has been about prompting people to think about how they will use it. The links are not meant as a definitive list of what is good. They form a core of useful sites that we think all economists ought to be aware of, and illustrate what you can find with sensible searching. Although our intended audience is in the UK, we mention a broad international mix of sites and gateways.
Internet Economist is one of a suite of eleven subject-based tutorials. This project is collectively called the RDN Virtual Training Suite and was funded by the Joint Information Services Committee (JISC). This suite is the result of a collaboration between the JISC-funded Resource Discovery Network, the UK's national network of internet subject gateways, and the Institute for Learning and Research Technology at the University of Bristol. Other tutorials in the suite include the Internet Business Manager, the Internet Sociologist and the Internet Politician. Funding has been approved for tutorials in another set of subjects, including the Internet Mathematician, Internet for Social Research Methods and the Internet Social Statistician. These are expected to be ready in May 2001.
These tutorials grew out of the original Internet Detective, a general tutorial on finding web resources and critical thinking created by Emma Place and Debra Hiom under the European-funded DESIRE 2 project. The Internet Detective treats critical-thinking issues at a greater length than individual subject-based tutorials like the Internet Economist, so it may be worth recommending to students as well.
Of the present authors, Emma Place was one of the co-authors of the original Internet Detective. Libby Miller has recently earned her PhD in economics from the University of Bristol and has catalogued a great many economics sites for the Bized internet gateway. Martin Poulter regularly searches the economics web in his capacity as webmaster for Economics LTSN (the Learning and Teaching Support Network subject centre for Economics).
The final web pages were created in the CALnet software, which is available free subject to conditions set out on the CALnet web page. The software was updated to allow some additional features for the new tutorials. Use of CALnet does not require any HTML coding: you enter text into a form and the program generates the page, including interactive features such as the quizzes and exercises in our tutorial.
This approach enabled us to overcome one crucial problem: if we enthuse about a particular site and the user visits it and spends their time exploring it, they might neglect to read the rest of the tutorial. What happens in the Internet Economist is that links are not followed but added to a "shopping basket". At the end of the tutorial, or at any other time if users want, they can see all the links in their basket, save it as a links list, print it out or visit the individual pages.
The Internet Economist will be updated to reflect the future development of the internet and in response to user feedback. We are very keen to hear about your experience of using the tutorial, either personally or as recommended reading for students. There is a feedback form included in the tutorial itself, or you can use the contact details below.
Martin Poulter's and Libby Miller's contribution to Internet Economist was funded by the Economics subject centre of the LTSN. The Learning and Teaching Support Network is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Department of Education for Northern Ireland.
The JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) is a strategic advisory committee to the UK higher and further education funding bodies. The JISC is currently funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Further Education Funding Council, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, the Welsh Funding Councils and the Department of Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment. The JISC works in partnership with the Research Councils. For further information visit the JISC website at the above URL.