5. Uses for Economics

Henry Farrell is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science and the Elliott School of International Affairs of George Washington University, and he is also one a group of scholars who contribute to the Crooked Timber blog. He has identified five uses of blogs within the classroom:

  • replacing standard class web pages
  • professor-written blogs which cover interesting developments that relate to the theme of the course
  • organization of in-class discussion
  • organization of intensive seminars where students have to provide weekly summaries of the readings
  • requiring students to write their own blogs as part of their grade

Stephen Downes, the Canadian learning technologist has expanded on these uses in an article for the EDUCAUSE Review.

But what is the potential for blogging in Economics teaching? Steve Greenlaw of the University of Mary Washington explores the broader role of technology in teaching via his blog Pedablogy: musings on art and craft of teaching.

A series of specific examples are presented below:

Replacing standard class web pages

Have you ever struggled to learn HTML and craft your own course website? It can be a valuable aid, enabling you to post suggested readings, set tasks / exercises / assignments or just remind students when they are expected to turn up for lectures. Using a blog can let you concentrate on adding the information, rather than having to learn additional IT skills.

This is something that Tim Kochanski at the University of Alaska Southeast successfully trialled. He created a blog as part of a four-week class on introductory economics. He was keen to investigate a low cost alternative to using his institutional course management system (Blackboard). He found that the journal format of a blog, as well as other features provided a valuable resource to help guide his students through a semester of economics. A detailed case study is available in the Reflections on Teaching section of the Economics Network website.

Professor-written blogs which cover interesting developments that relate to the theme of the course

You may already be familiar with the Internet and often come across websites that may be relevant to your teaching. Using a blog can enable you to bring these resources together, comment on them and organise them in a manner which may be helpful to your students. You may want to try and make the theoretical aspects of what you are teaching meaningful in a broader context, by relating them to items that are in the news or of topical interest.

The Tutor2u website is a good example of this. It offers a range of subject specific blogs. Geoff Riley (Head of Economics at Eton College) maintains the 'Economics in the News' Blog and provides a regular commentary on economics issues and trends. Although the primary target audience is secondary school students some of the resources could be useful in first year undergraduate courses on introductory economics.

Organization of in-class discussion or seminars

You may have experimented in the past with discussion boards and found that they can produce useful dialogues. Opening up this process with a group blog can enable students to post items, comment on them, get to know each other and even answer their own questions. You may get contributions from students who find face-to-face discussion difficult, but who find online communication more suited to their learning style.

Professor David Tufte manages an 'Economics Classes Blog' at Southern Utah University:

His students regularly post items of interest and ask thought provoking questions. Professor Tufte then invites his students to offer their feedback/analysis on that particular economics issue, by placing comments on the blog, where he occasionally offers comments of his own to relate the items to ideas he has mentioned in class.