6.2 Economic analysis
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Developing structured arguments using economic analysis is one of the hardest tasks that students face in the research process. Detailed descriptions of project components can communicate the form and quality of economic analysis that is expected in a research project However, even when students are generally competent in summarising and synthesising literature, striking out on their own to conduct original analysis is completely foreign to them. This is one instance in which the process by which professionals conduct their own research is a natural model for students. Rarely does a professional paper become published that is not subject to review and revision. Often the revision entails strengthening the economic analysis and arguments: exactly what we want for our students. Challenging student arguments, offering alternative perspectives and correcting inaccuracies are critical inputs into the research process. It is important, however, to make sure that a student learns from this process and does not simply wait for feedback and revise the work accordingly. Feedback on multiple stages of a project can begin by providing nurturing comments in early assignments that signal expectations and provide editorial comments designed to show students how to improve their analysis. As the project progresses, however, these comments should simply point out problems and allow the student to develop the solution.
Special consideration needs to be given to the extent to which students are expected to create new knowledge. Undergraduate research projects have great potential to push students beyond the boundaries of their current knowledge in a variety of ways. The use of undergraduate research as a pedagogical tool is all about stretching students’ minds and providing them with skills to act like economists. A word of caution is appropriate, however, since the structure of undergraduate research projects closely mimic professionally developed publications; it is tempting to develop too high expectations for students. To avoid unnecessary frustrations it is important that new knowledge creation be judged in the context of the students’ knowledge base and demonstrate the achievement of the proficiencies rather than using our professional knowledge base as the benchmark.