Editorial, Volume 6 Issue 2
The value of an economics education can be judged in many different ways. The standard approach within the discipline would be to estimate a rate of return measured in terms of future income. Estimates of returns to an economics degree generally show up well when compared with returns to other degrees that students might study. However, there are other ways to evaluate programmes of economics education and three of the papers in this issue illustrate the range of possibilities.
Monteiro and Lopes compare the content of economics degrees in the USA and Europe. They find that whilst there is strong similarity in the cores of economics degrees on both sides of the Atlantic there are marked differences in the typical options offered. Their comparison suggests that degree programmes in Europe offer greater breadth in terms of opportunities to study related disciplines in social science and beyond whilst they argue that the options in the USA provide greater opportunities for students to deepen their capacity for researching economic issues.
This comparison leaves open the question of whether such variations matter for the outcomes of an economics degree. This question might conceivably be tested using data on graduates' incomes. In a follow-up to paper by Chan et al. (2005), Mangeloja and Hirvonen offer a different approach. They are interested in the effect of a university education on students' happiness and they compare their results from Finland with the previous study from Australia. Their sample is taken from a broad group of students studying an economics module. Happily they find that most of the students are content with their university education. One result, consistent with the previous paper, is that variation in happiness is not associated with variation in income. The most important factor for students' happiness is the quality of their social relationships, although the learning and resource environment also makes a difference.
This does not, of course, guarantee that these students will express such satisfaction with their teachers. Nowell's paper confirms previous research finding that student satisfaction ratings are influenced by the grade points they are awarded. Tougher marking means lower student satisfaction. However, he goes beyond this to examine the effects of students' relative performance and finds that students' performance relative to peers is a significant factor in their satisfaction ratings. There is an echo here of the research on happiness that finds relative income to be an important factor.
Whether students 'like' alternative learning technologies and whether the alternative technologies improve the quality of learning are not the same question. Students want to learn but they also want convenience, entertainment and other aspects of their learning environment that do not necessarily promote learning outcomes. In this vein, the paper by Savage and Flores reports evidence that students value the convenience of being able to watch lectures by video but that they miss the interaction of 'chalk and talk' sessions. The authors go further and estimate a willingness to pay for these aspects. The implication is that students may be willing to trade off benefits from one type of learning environment with those of another. See also Guest (2005) for a discussion of whether greater student choice over their learning environment improves learning outcomes. Perhaps the answer for instructors, as Reimann (2004) argues in an earlier volume of this journal, is to follow Biggs' model of "constructively aligning" the learning environment with students based on their previous learning experiences and learning styles.
These papers remind us that judging a university economics education only by its rate of return is a rather limited approach and one that neglects important developments in the discipline. Learning and the outcomes of learning are social phenomena. The quality of students' experience as learners of economics will be affected by the social relationships they develop and the ways in which they compare their achievements to others. Teaching can be organised to make it more likely that these effects will be positive. However, that does require academics to work together to shape the environment in which students learn.
We can all recall vividly our own student memories of experiments in the science classroom at school, but probably less so in the economics classroom. This is changing. Economics teachers are realising what teachers in the physical sciences have long known. Active engagement of the learner through a hands-on classroom experiment promotes learning if handled well by the teacher. See, for example, Noussair and Walker (1998) for a discussion of how experiments can be effectively used in the economics classroom along with several illustrations. IREE has published several examples of classroom experiments (Hazlett 2003, 2007; Bernard and Bernard 2005; Stodder 2005; Kruse et al. 2005). In this volume the article by Brozik and Zapalska is a further example, showing how a simulation game can provide a useful introduction to the topic of portfolio management in a finance/economics class. A helpful feature of this article is that it provides teachers with very detailed explanations of exactly how to run the experiment, along with all supporting documentation.
Peter Davies and Ross Guest
Bernard, J. and Bernard, D. (2005) "Using Context in Classroom Experiments: A Public Goods Example", International Review of Economics Education, Vol. 4, pp. 9–22.
Chan, G., Miller, P. W. and Tcha, M. (2005) "Happiness in University Education", International Review of Economics Education, Vol. 4, pp. 20–45.
Guest, R. (2005) "Will Flexible Learning Raise Student Achievement?" Education Economics, Vol. 13, pp. 287–298.
Hazlett, D. (2003) "A Search-Theoretic Classroom Experiment with Money", International Review of Economics Education, Vol. 2, pp. 80–90.
Hazlett, D. (2007) "A Classroom Investment Co-ordination Experiment", International Review of Economics Education,Vol. 6, pp. 63–76.
Kruse, J. B., Ozdemir, O. and Thompson, M. (2005) "Market forces and price ceilings: A Classroom Experiment", International Review of Economics Education, Vol. 4, pp.73–86.
Noussair, C. and Walker, J. (1998) "Student Decision Making as Active Learning: Experimental Economics in the Classroom", in W. E. Becker and M. Watts (Eds.) Teaching Economics to Undergraduates: alternatives to chalk and talk, Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar.
Reimann, N. (2004) "First Year Teaching–Learning Environments in Economics", International Review of Economics Education, Vol. 3, pp. 9–38.
Stodder, J. (2005) "Strategic Voting and Coalitions: Condorcet's Paradox and Ben-Gurion's Tri-lemma", International Review of Economics Education, Vol. 4, pp. 58–72.