Computing Skills for Economists
by Guy Judge
Published by John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, UK
ISBN 0471 98806 5
Guy Judge's new book is a welcome addition to the student text market. Vast selections of books explain how to use computers and particular software. The unique feature of Judge's book is that it places a clear emphasis on the acquisition and application of key IT skills for economists.
The text has been written so that it can be used in a variety of ways. The introductory chapters are accessible and useful to students with very little background in computing. Emphasis is placed on offering some sense of perspective on what computers can do, and how their use can be helpful to economists. Later chapters could easily provide a set of more specialised off-the-shelf course modules.
Many universities and colleges will run IT induction courses that cover much of the early material (basic concepts, using Windows-based operating systems, key features of office software suites, email and web searches). Most will be generic courses offered to students in a wide range of subjects. Students will probably find the subject-specific focus more obviously relevant and appealing. Another feature of such courses is that they will doubtless cover details of local computer access in detail, but won't offer much guidance on use outside of the local environment. I particularly liked the way that Judge uses 'Find out' boxes to enable students to focus on the important points they will need to know if they are to adapt to using any PC in a less familiar set-up. Other boxes provide 'Tips' (e.g. why and how to write protect a floppy disc; and virus awareness). So there is a true focus on the acquisition of transferable IT skills.
Later chapters go beyond simple induction course material, covering equation editing statistics, financial analysis and linear programming using spreadsheets; using statistics and econometrics software; and how economists can best use the internet. I like the practical focus. Computer output from relevant packages is included and tied into relevant economics examples. Judge includes numerous 'Practicals' within each chapter to facilitate active skills development. Students are encouraged to build up their confidence by adapting examples provided. Each chapter ends with a set of appropriate 'Exercises and mini-projects'. There are plans to add to these as the existing Web site that supports the book is developed.
The final chapter touches on a range of 'advanced' skills that form part of the toolkit of specialist economists, including Gauss and Ox programming and use of 'symbolic algebra software' such as Maple and Mathematica, and makes some predictions on likely developments.
The scope of the text is impressive. I think it is a particularly useful read for instructors considering how to ensure students will attain a level of competence and confidence in key IT skills within a given degree programme. The wealth of tried and tested ideas for both instruction and assessment of students is certainly helpful. Whether degree programmes are sufficiently flexible to offer a specific course tied into the text and whether there are workable or perhaps preferable alternatives to self-contained courses are other questions that instructors will need to address. Nonetheless this book is useful reading for all economics students.