The session was a comprehensive overview of the Internet, how it works, how to use it and what is holds that is of interest to economists. Three identical sessions were run by the same team at the conference; each one of the sessions was well attended.
Goffe introduced the session by giving an outline of the Internet as it presently exists. There are over 12 million 'hosts' (internet connected computers), of which over 3 million are US commercial hosts and over 2 million are US educational hosts. The UK had the next largest number of hosts compared to the US, with over half a million. 134 countries are connected to the Internet, with over 500,000 web servers and up to 48 million US users.
Goffe then went on to how the Internet does (and doesn't) work describing Internet Protocols and Uniform Resource Locators, and discussing the issue of bandwidth (ie will there be enough internet capacity on the future?). He also touched further on the future of the Internet which is likely to include streaming audio and video, and collaborative tools.
Single and group communications were covered in detail, including the description of email addresses and mailing lists. The following was cited as useful for finding individual's email addresses:
http://www.mit.edu:8001/people/cdemello/univ.html (university directory).
Goffe's own web site at http://netec.mcc.ac.uk/EconFAQ/EconFAQ.html describes 120 email discussion lists suitable for economists, whilst http://www.liszt.com/ describes 64,000 discussion lists.
An interesting live demonstration of Microsoft's Netmeeting followed, with Parks linking up with a colleague in Washington. They demonstrated an audio link-up between New Orleans and Washington using the software, as well as written communication via the screen. They also showed how the software allows two people in different locations to work on the same document simultaneously.
The final part of the session concerned the issue of finding information on the Internet, including references to search engines and information gateways. Many sites useful to the economist were sited and demonstrated.
Materials from this talk, including Bob Parks's bookmarks, are located at ftp://wuecon.wustl.edu/demo.
Davies described and demonstrated the software Eco-Sim, with reference to its use in his teaching. The software is based upon a simulation of an economy, with participating students representing different sections of that economy: some students take part as a company with the main aim of maximising profit, some take part as people in the economy trying to maximise their utility and some as the government with the main objective to get elected.
Davies typically uses two lectures to instruct the students on how to use the software, and then runs the simulation outside class time. He has found that the simulation often runs twenty-four hours a day.
Students have the freedom to do whatever they want within their individual remit ie they can speculate, become brokers, create black markets etc. The simulation has 32 macroeconomic variables and 45 microeconomic variables for the students to consider.
Davies has found a 88% correlation between performance in class and performance in Eco-Sim with his students. See an article on Eco-Sim by Davies in CHEER Volume 9 Issue 3.
Fox presented a case study on the effectiveness of using projectors and animated diagrams for presenting economic theory. The software used has been developed by Fox's himself: Instructor's Teaching Software: Economics - Addison-Wesley-Longman.
Fox outlined some difficulties he had observed students having when learning economic theory. Often students described the theory as too hard, too techical, boring or difficult to learn. Fox developed his software with the aim of decreasing student boredom, increasing interest and therefore learning, changing student attitudes about economic theory and increasing attendance at lectures.
The software includes interactive graphs, and pictorial models of theories such as inflation and capital stock. Much of the animation and interaction is clever, amusing and memorable - for example marginal utility is demonstrated by a bouncing hamburger following a data plot.
Fox analysed performance of two groups of students - one group who had no multimedia element in their course lectures - and another group who did. Generally, positive feedback was received about the use of multimedia with 91% of Fox's 'multimedia' students finding 'moving' diagrams helpful in understanding economics and 78% agreeing the multimedia approach made economics more interesting than it otherwise might have been. Background and experience differences between the two groups of students however, made it difficult to prove there was any significant improvement in exam and test results from the 'multimedia' students.
Brooker gave an outline to the benefits of mentoring with reference to his Intelligence Mentoring Software. He described how one-to-one interaction with the student can improve learning by identifying learning outcomes, eliciting subject knowledge and determining and implementing the optimal intervention strategy for the student. Intervention strategies discussed included 'drill and fill' (questions and feedback), socratic method (asking the right questions to get maximum answers), case-based reasoning, incremental generalisation, motivational feedback, contextual examples and 'parental surrogate' (ie personal discussion).
Presently in education such 'human' mentoring is heavily constrained. The educational institution determines the student/teacher ratio and other pressures prevent such human interaction being totally effective.
Brooker suggests educators can turn to software to fulfill this mentoring role. Brooker's Intelligence Mentoring software has the ability to assess a student's knowledge and learning style, and select and implement appropriate intervention strategies. It also is able to maintain performance records and generate formative evaluations.
Whitney gave an overview of his software 'Qwiz Plus' that can be used for testing in economics teaching. Qwiz Plus is a program designed to allow lecturers to develop, administer and monitor interactive computer workbooks. It comes complete with its own stock of economics questions, but provides a seemingly user-friendly system to creating intereactive problem-based questions.
Qwiz Plus allows lecturers to:
The software consists of three programs: a demonstration program, an instructor program for creating and administering course workbooks and a student program for using the workbooks. Please contact Whitney if you are interested in receiving a complimentary copy of Qwiz Plus:
Sosin focussed on three questions about the participation of economics teaching in the Internet/Web "revolution". First, to what extent are (US) departments of economics able and willing to participate in Web and Internet approaches to teaching economics? Second, for those who are now using the Web/Internet in their teaching - what are they actually doing? Third, what are the pedagogical implications of the changes which are taking place?
To answer the first two questions Sosin sent a survey to about 1000 economics departments offering undergraduate courses in economics. A second, less formal exploration was also undertaken via e-mail with the authors of a number of the relevant Web sites that Kosin had discovered.
Kosin's survey revealed (with a resonse rate of 33%) that most Faculty members have a high level of access to suitable networked computers, but that many departments have inadequate lab provision for students. In only 37% of departments responding do all students have adequate access. However about half the departments have some to one-fourth of the faculty involved in "web-enhanced" teaching. A few departments offer full Internet asynchronous distance learning.
Of the departments responding to the survey 48% have departmental web pages and an additional 20% have web pages under construction. The survey reveals that the web is widely regarded as an approrpiate medium to provide information about the department, even in departments where web use in class is less common. Less than half the departments in the survey felt that there was adequate training and Sosin commented that often staff seem to be expected to train themselves in the new technology and then apply this training with little support and no decrease in their performance on other aspects of their job.
More detailed analysis of the results revealed clear differences between "doctoral", "masters" and "bachelors" schools, with larger departments also typically more active than smaller ones.
In most departments fewer than one quarter of faculty members use web assignments or other Internet features in teaching.
Sosin briefly mentioned some of the different ways in which the Web can be used in teaching, making the distinction between "web-enhanced teaching" (traditional classes which incorporate Web use) and "web-only teaching" (where Internet links have entirely replaced other forms of contact). He commented on some of the potential advantages claimed for web-enhanced teaching (access to current information, diversity of learning styles, increased motivation to learn, reduced barriers of time and space, low marginal costs of additional students or cousres sections, ease of record keeping). However he also emphasized that providing information is not the same as providing education, a point which is often missed. Students must be shown how to comprehend and interact with information in purposeful ways and it is all too easy for them to face information overload. He argued that while the fixed costs are accepted as substantial, the marginal costs may also be high and one must remember the costs of maintaining and upgrading hardware, software and courseware.
Finally Sosin commented on the experiences of two people who have used the web extensively in teaching economics, Jay Kaplan of the Department of Economics at the Univesrity of Colorado, and Roger McCain of the Department of Economics at Drexel University. Kaplan reports that the majority of his students rely on the web and do not buy a textbook. Test grades have gone up and Kaplan regards the web very favourably and finds that it is effective. McCain, however, feels that it is too soon to know the pedagogical advantages and disadvantages of using the web in teaching. He has noted considerable differences in the way that different students use the web, some printing out large quantities of web material.
Concluding, Sosin argued that teachers should recognise that they need to adapt the technology to the learners rather than trying to adapt the learners to the technology. Web sites that are to be used in assignments should be reviewed in advance and students should be taught how to evaluate all information (printed and CD-ROM as well as Web pages). On-line course design, development and training must be taken on board at faculty level if it is to expand beyond the group with a special interest in exploring new technology.
Agarwal and Day reported on some experiments in using the Internet to enhance economics teaching at the University of Central Florida, and on the results of statistical tests conducted to discover whether use of the Internet has a significant impact on student learning and the retention of economic concepts, instructor effectiveness and student attitudes towards economics. The tests were based on comparisons of control groups which employ traditional teaching methods and test groups that included Internet-enhanced teaaching methods. The results offer tentative evidence of a positive impact of the Internet on economic education.
The experiments were carried out over a total of six sections of three economics courses (graduate and undergraduate) in micro and macroeconomics taught by the presenters over the Spring and Summer semesters in 1996. Three sesctions served as the control group and three as the test group in which the Internet enhnacements were implemented. To remove differences caused by instructor teaching style the same instructor taught both a test group and a control group for each course. The sections were randomly assigned as test and control and students were not informed prior to registration that the different class sections would have different work requirements. The Internet enhancements were based mainly on the use of e-mail and discussion lists, plus some assignements based on using the Worls-Wide Web for information access, retrieval and use. In all other respects classroom teaching, homework and tests were the same for the different groups. Information was also collected on individual student characteristics and both groups were found to be homogeneous in their characteristics.
To test for differences in student learning and retention Agarwal and Day used two measures: the Test of Understanding College Economics III (TUCE) and the final grade awarded to the student on the course. To test the attitudes of students towards economics they used pre and post course surveys of Attitudes towards Economics, developed by the National Council on Economic Education.
Regression analysis was used to test the effects on student learning and attitude of the internet enhancement, taking into account the various student characteristics. The results suggested that the Internet enhancement had a positive effect on both TUCE and Grade with t-values of 2.51 and 1.91 in the respective regression equations. The results from the Attitudes surveys showed significant improvements for the graduate classes and the undergraduate macro classes, but not for the undergaduate micro classes taking the Internet-enhanced courses. However the authors recognised that these results could also have been affected by class size, an issue which will need to be taken into account in future research in this area.
In seeking to answer the question as to whether expanded use of computer based technologies will improve undergraduate economics education, Conrad reviewed the research which had been carried out in a number of other disciplines, including philosophy, psychology and mathematics. There were three main types of study reported: those based on the instructor's own personal evaluation of the innovation in computer enhanced teaching, those based on student evaluations and those based on the comparison of results from experimental and control groups. In the latter not all studies had random assignment between groups and there may be problems of self-selection bias.
Conrad reported that the studies provide quantitative and qualitative support for the following conclusions:
Tod Porter introduced the session by asking whether we watch a dancing bear because he dances so gracefully, or just because he dances at all. Perhaps when CAL material was first used in economics we were impressed just because it was there. Now with high resolution graphics interactive CD-ROM at every discount store perhaps our standards should be higher. We also have a decade of collective experience in the design and use of on screen material.
Ted Osborne provided a review of five brand new economics CD-ROMS. His approach was to ask how useful they would be to a typical first year undergraduate trying to revise quickly for an assignment or class test. He chose to look at the treatment each gave to the area of average and marginal products.
In his presentation Osborne concentrated on the three products he liked best: (1) Economics A Book by Alan C Stockman published by Dryden, (2) WinEcon, the TLTP Economics Consortium Package distributed in the US by McGraw-Hill and (3) Economics in Action designed to accompany Michael Parkin's AddisonWesley text.
The Stockman material is designed to be viewed using Adobe Acrobat Reader. The whole book is on the CD and Osborne described it as "neat, clean and straightforward". In the section he looked at there was a review of the material itself followed by a variety of exercises, both graphical and numerical. Users can go back and do the same exercise again if they wish, a characteristic which Osborne regards as essential.
WinEcon was described by Osborne as "nice" and "slick". He particularly liked the feature which he described as "stepwise animation" where a graph is build up step by step with additional textual information to explain what is going on.He thought students would like the material and learn quickly with it. He did however have two criticisms of the product, namely 1) users cannot redo an exercise over again without restarting the program and 2) at certain points in the program users are forced to answer a q uestion before they can proceed so that they can't just scroll through. (However as part of the WinEcon team I should point out that it wasn't designed for students to scroll through quickly in the hope of cramming in some last minute revision!).
The Economics in Action material comes in two parts: tutorials and figure gallery (electronic versions of the textbook graphs in stepwise animation form). Again he liked the product and felt that students would be able to learn an awful lot quite quickly with it.
Summing up Osborne listed a number of characteristics which he felt software designers should include or avoid. Among his recommendations for the include list were stepwise animation, linear organization of material, a good variety of problems, the ability to reset a problem at any time, and skip, show and return buttons. His avoid list included forcing the user to answer a question, buttons which inadvertently take you out, making sound too critical, avoiding cluttery and weakly connected pieces of material. These new products have all added a lot, but in Osborne's opinion there is still a long way to go.
Ralph Byrns lectured us on the inefficiency of traditional teaching methods - the book and the talking head! In characteristically evangelistic and entertaining style he argued that learning systems based on reading paper were genetically unnatural. He asked us to conduct a mental experiment. First we had to think of the best ever book we had read and try to recall our favourite passage. Then we had to think of any mediocre movie and visualize one of the scenes. Visual images he argued were much more compelling. We must refocus our efforts on learning rather than teaching, he said, and find ways of compelling students' attention through an interactive multimedia approach. Efficiency will out and we can choose to be participants or bystanders. He was concerned that economics is not capturing its share of "mindshare". If we want to attract students and get them to learn we must change the way we do things. For a glimpse of the kind of thing Byrns has in mind visit his web site at Addison Wesley.
Richard Alston looked at things from the point of view of a developer and talked about the project he had worked on with his colleague Wan Fu Chi. He talked about the evolution of their work from early attempts to write software teaching the IS LM model to their latest CD ROM creations, the NSF funded Visual Microeconomics and Visual Macroeconomics. Visual Microeconomics is a set of nine interactive software tutorials filled with graphs, exercises and quizzes. It is designed to complement the textbook treatment of the most important topics in microeconomics. Visual Macroeconomics gives a similar treatment to macroeconomics and also includes a realistic simulation model.
Alston talked about the difficulties of keeping up to date with technological developments, issues of software design and problems of dealing with publishers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donihue gave more of a user's perspective. He began by saying that whilst he had a great deal of respect for Byrns, he did not feel that we should be part of the entertainment industry. Donihue teaches at Colby College with classes of at most 35 students. He has recently been examining Macroeconomics Explorer (a Micro version is soon to follow) which is designed to go with the textbooks by Case & Fair and Olivier Blanchard and requires QuickTime software to run. His overall assessment was that it was a good product, very useful for teaching micro principles, but it wasn't the be all and end all. In his view there is no substitute for direct personal contact between lecturers and students.
Clark's main concern was that software demands are in danger of getting ahead of the available hardware. Many departments don't have machines with CD-ROM disk drives and sound cards, just labs of fairly basic machines running off the network. He referred to the Rensselaer model (I hope I've got that right!) which was a pioneering study on how to integrate computers into teaching in physics. He thought there were lessons which we could learn from the approach they used. Typically a class would begin with a 10 to 15 minutes talk from the lecturer setting out the basics and explaining what the aim of the session was to be. Then students would work independently or in small groups for 30 minutes or so before coming back together to see what had been learned. Clark also talked briefly about the NCED Virtual Economics CD-ROM which is designed for K-12 teachers of economics. The idea of it was to provide resources for teachers to use rather than material for direct student use. It offers teaching tips, suggested lesson plans and a large collection of resources in Acrobat format which can be printed out for use in class. Version 2 is due out this summer for around $30.
The meeting was a snapshot of the current state of debate and activity in the rapidly-growing sphere of electronic publishing which was fascinating for the absence of gee-whiz philosophising, useful for the presence of sound practical experience and noteworthy as a sober evaluation of the possibilities and problems in this new field. Electronic distribution appears on the verge of offering a serious alternative to traditional publishing but has encountered a range of difficulties both technical and of basic principle. The meeting addressed both, distinguishing carefully and accurately between them.
Speakers were Wayne Marr of the Social Science Electronic Publishing, a commercial organisation providing an electronic distribution service in the Social Sciences; William Goetzmann of the Yale University School of Management; Paul Malatesta of the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Economics; Rene Stulz of the Journal of Finance; and G William Schwert of the Journal of Financial Economics. Tim Opler of Ohio State University presided. Two basic models of electronic publishing were present on the platform. Social Science Electronic Publishing, through the Social Science Network (SSRN), operates a distribution service for academics grouped under subject specialisms free of the space and time limitations of the printed medium.
Subject-specific networks such as the Financial Economics Network (FEN), Economics Research Network (ERN), Accounting Research Network (ARN) and the Legal Scholarship Network (LSN) branch off gateway-style from its home page. Each groups a series of journals which mail out abstracts and provide downloadable versions of the abstracted papers and is managed by an academic editorial team. Subscriptions are low - typically $10-$50, in contrast to some other electronic distribution enterprises. The emphasis on rapid and general distribution provides an outlet which removes the frustrating delays associated with traditional distribution and bypasses the printed page altogether, but reduces the editorial selection associated with a traditional journal.
The financial journals, though their principal medium is the printed page, provide a growing range of electronic services including electronic distribution as an adjunct to their printing operations. Accepted articles are increasingly available to journal subscribers in electronic form before appearing in print. New research results are thus still subject to peer review but available as soon as this is complete, unhindered by traditional publication backlogs.
Journals also offer electronic submission and refereeing which improves turnaround time and enhances interaction between authors, referees and editors. Rene Stultz's 'tips from the editor' page is well worth a visit, not only for the answer to 'The referee is an idiot: what shall I do?, closely followed by 'The referee is not an idiot. what shall I do?' The Journal of Finance Economics not only has a disputes procedure but publishes it electronically, three steps ahead of more British Journals than I care to mention. It also publishes a provides a Public-Utility-style how-quick-we-did-it page revealing that, for example, 112 of 361 submitted papers were refereed in more than three weeks and less than six. A median turnaround time as 46 days raises the intriguing possibility of accumulating 24 rejections in the life of a single HEFC assessment exercise. But hey, this is the world of Finance.
Professor Marr's discussion of the technical state of the art illustrated clearly that electronic distribution is by no means a millenial wonderworld. He opened with the basic obstacle to more fanciful models of dissemination: the gap between the hypertext capabilities the web purports to provide and its actual performance. He was sceptical that electronic publication will change the fundamental form in which an article is published, as a serial self-contained document with standard literary references. It is true that hyperlinked documents offer possibilities beyond the black-and-white printed page, which multimedia authors are using with rising expertise: vivid images, motion, interaction, and the chance to leap directly from reference to referenced object. They offer the distant prospect of changing altogether the concept of publication: document components might, for example, be stored and even authored separately so that formal publication consists only of creating the appropriate links and bridges. Having experimented with this model, Marr found it did not work for what seems to me quite a profound reason: the hyperlinks move.
This does not rule out whizz-bang components like simulations, spreadsheets or databases and the speakers stressed the advantages of such new forms: for example, publishing the data underlying a complex calculation and even the actual formula for computing it, making it far easier for researchers to replicate and query results. The central difficulty, however, is whether such works are published as a self-contained integral document or a set of linked but distinct components.
Nothing, as any seasoned web-cruiser knows, is more frustrating than alternating between gateways in which half the links are down, and search engines which return ten thousand references to an innocent query. Marr's account suggests to me that this problem is not merely technical. A hyperlinked community would depend on rules of conduct not often observed among intellectuals, such as keeping documents in the same place and refraining from changing them retrospectively. A large part of the labour of maint aining a web distribution site, he explained, consists in continuously checking and rechecking the hyperlinks.The coming (when?) generation of client-server object-oriented file systems may overcome this but the technical preconditions are formidable. It would, it seems to me, require a generally-agreed, non-erasable and worldwide system for uniquely identifying and authenticating every document on the net, a search technology capable of finding them, and a user community which upgraded to this technology and accepted its civil rights implications. It is not even clear we want such a thing, never mind whether it is possible.
These difficulties are currently overcome only in the context of corporate intranets where universal standards for document naming and placement can be established, or proprietary distributed database solutions such as Lotus Notes. Marr's chosen procedure, which seems a sound compromise for the current state of the art, is to treat electronic publishing for what he terms 'net dissemination' of self-contained traditional documents. His organisation distributes them in Acrobat PDF format, which allows accurate and standardised rendering of diagrams, images and pagination and can be accessed on almost any system using Adobe's free reader. This might not be the only solution but it seems to me the question of document integrity is quite a fundamental one for the medium-term future of eletronic distribution.
Overlaying and surpassing technical questions is what Marr termed the 'model of electronic scholarship'. On the one hand, he stated, a growing body was questioning peer review as such, a suggestion taken up by other speakers who acknowledged that citation frequency or even web hits might provide equivalent or alternative criteria of merit, a 'market model' of success which was not without its problems. Marr asked the blunt question: is the new form of publishing best defined as Instantaneous Scholarship, or Junk? SSRN's premium was on accessibility and speed of distribution. But this did open the way to what might become, in effect, vanity or self-publishing with no constraint on content.
However as Paul Malatesta pointed out, there is no necessary technical feature of electronic distribution that rules out peer review and other quality controls. He usefully divided the activity of journal publication into four categories: manuscript development services (peer review and editorial functions); authentification (editorial acceptance or rejection); production of archival medium, and dissemination. The printed medium, he pointed out, is the traditional basis of all four services. But if the second two are offered electronically, there is no intrinsic reason to abandon the first two.
The final set of issues arise in a productive if brief exchange on the conflict between commercial and scholarly requirements. There was no consensus on where copyright should, or even actually did reside and each organisation seemed to follow a distinct policy. It is not even clear what commercial interest will dominate. North-Holland, who publish numerous academic titles, explained from the audience that its commercial interests determined that it should maintain copyright. The undoubted success of a new breed of electronic entrepreneur indicates that sheer ease of reproduction will become a major threat to this traditional view. If commercial publishers become as active as geneticists, fashion gurus, software houses and the World Trade Organisation in defence of intellectual ownership, we can expect a more than a scholarly interest in document authentification. However, the distinction between authorship and ownership is clearer in publishing than in most spheres; so the underlying issues of social and intellectual policy may be aired more openly, as was the case in this fascinating session.