The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

In the lecture you should use focused newsclips, since the information provided to the students needs to be clear, simple and straight to the point. In many cases, articles contain additional information that is not directly relevant in the context of the topics that the lecture intends to address. This ‘noise’ in the article can create confusion and take attention away from the relevant issues. Without careful selection the danger is that newsclips simply end up confusing and discouraging students.

Top Tip: Use focused newsclips in the lecture. Clear, simple and short newsclips attract students’ attention and help them focus on the topic under investigation.

Make sure to select newsclips that contain (technical) terminology that is part of the economic theory discussed in the lecture. This will make students aware that the issues discussed in class are not abstract concepts, but are readily applied in the business context.

The lecture could then be structured as follows. At the beginning of the lecture, show the article to the students to introduce the lecture topic and to highlight the main points of discussion. Read the article with the students and emphasise the main issues emerging from the article. In this way you will be able to create the context for the delivery of the lecture. The students’ attention is captured, interest is stimulated, issues are raised and general knowledge is conveyed. Conclude the reading of the article by posing questions concerning the actions, decisions and strategies of the economic agents portrayed in the article. This helps to focus the issues under investigation and suggests the lines along which the lecture will be articulated.

Top Tip: Show the article at the beginning of the lecture and use it to create a context for the analysis of the theory.

Thus, the case study provides a motivation to learn theory because the students begin to understand that unless they have some further knowledge, they will not be able to deal with the issues raised in the newsclip. Learning theory is no longer a dry and passive affair, but an active exercise aimed at solving problems. The ground for the development of the theory is then prepared.

The lecture should then develop along traditional lines where the main theoretical concepts are developed and explained. However, in your explanation you should continuously refer to the article’s content and always attempt to place the theory within the context of the article. This helps the students to put theory into context: knowledge is conveyed while comprehension is supported and application is shown. Throughout your explanation, you should gradually answer the questions that were posed at the beginning of the lecture. This allows students to understand how theory can be applied to address a specific issue.

Top Tip: The use of two overhead projectors displaying the article and the theoretical concepts simultaneously and side by side would help in cross-referencing theory with practice.

At the end of the lecture, you should summarise the main issues developed in the lecture and you should show the case again to the students. This helps them to fix basic concepts in their mind and, more importantly, students can develop a first understanding of how analysis can be carried out. The delivery of the lecture through the use of the case study generally helps students to develop the ‘lower’ skill levels of knowledge, comprehension and application. The development of the ‘higher’-order skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation is then carried out through the seminar activities. However, before proceeding with an analysis of seminar activities, an example can help illustrate how the approach is used in the lecture of a second-year economics module.

Example: using newsclips in the lecture

Business Economics is a second-year module that deals with the economics of business organisation, market structure and strategic behaviour. Students are introduced to an economic analysis of issues such as the horizontal and vertical boundaries of the firm, strategic interaction in oligopolistic markets and competitive advantage. Within the analysis of the vertical boundaries of the firm, one of the topics dealt with in the module is the hold-up problem. Figure 1 presents the article that was used in the lecture.

‘The largest order ever taken to lengthen a luxury liner was revoked yesterday after the Italian owners of the Costa Classica pulled out of a deal, leaving 26,000 tonnes of steel (worth £51m) beached on the docks of the Mersey. The Cammel Laird shipyard … was told by Italian cruise operator Costa Crociere that it had postponed delivery of the ship because the work was behind schedule … union leaders and local MPs began a series of crisis meetings late on Thursday to salvage the contract to build and fit a 45-metre extension to the 56,000 tons Costa Classica, cutting it in half and inserting the new section in the middle… The Italian shipowner had applied for arbitration to find out whether they could postpone or even terminate the contract, arguing that the work was substantially behind schedule and efforts to resolve the dispute commercially had failed…’ (Guardian, 25 November 2000)

Figure 1 Article introducing the case

The article is shown at the beginning of the lecture and the main ‘elements’ characterising the business transaction are highlighted: bilateral bargaining, contractual negotiation, asset specificity, transaction costs. In essence, these are the core factors comprising up the hold-up problem. After reading the article, the following questions are posed to the students:

1. How many parties are involved in this transaction?

2. How can Costa Crociere back off if there is a legally binding contract regulating the business transaction?

3. Can Cammel Laird shipyard sell the ship-extension to somebody else?

4. What do you understand from the phrase ‘efforts to resolve the dispute commercially had failed’?

The lecture then develops around a detailed account of hold-up problem theory by continuously referring to the issues identified at the beginning of the lecture and to the article. At the end of the lecture, the main issues are summarised, the article is shown again and the link between theory and the case is demonstrated.