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Hyperlecturing and linkages.


Recent developments in the art of Computer Aided Instruction rightly emphasize the use of computer simulations and tutorials as a method of enriching the instruction of undergraduate economics students. For example, the use of econometric and simulation models, such as the Fair Model (Fair 1990, Yoho 1989) or MacroSolve (King and McConnell 1991), allows the examination of either past, present, or future economic conditions as part of the classroom or laboratory experience in macroeconomics courses. Spreadsheet programs provide instructors with the opportunity to involve their students in performing "what if" analysis on simplified structural models without spending valuable class time to solve repeatedly the model under study (Smith and Smith 1988, Adams and Kroch 1989). Numerous tutorials that now accompany many economics textbooks also assist the instructor by allowing students to study new concepts in a structured laboratory environment where the computer program keeps them on track. (Porter and Riley 1991a, 1991b) There are still, however, at least two other areas of computer aided instruction appropriate for use in teaching economics: HyperLecturing and Linkages.


HyperLecturing is a presentation style that incorporates the computer as an electronic blackboard. It receives its name from the use of a simple software/programming package for the Macintosh called HyperCard. (The DOS word equivalent is ToolBook). HyperLecturing allows instructors to create overhead images with the computer, just as they normally would, but to use them in a manner with many advantages over traditional overhead transparencies. Instead of creating overhead transparencies from a printout, instructors simply display these images, or slides, from their computers using an overhead projection device. These computer slides are then linked together with "buttons" that allow the instructor to move from slide to slide by clicking a mouse rather than negotiating a stack of transparencies. For example, a single outline slide could contain categories (buttons linked to other slides) for each component of a lecture or an economic model. Where feasible, students can actively participate in the direction of that lecture or the development of that model by deciding which component to explore next. The instructor also has the option of returning to any specific component of that lecture or model with the click of a mouse.

HyperCard also allows the instructor to open a specific file in a supporting application such as a spreadsheet or graphics program with a mouse click rather than typing specific path names in hard disk directories while the class becomes distracted by something else. Upon exiting the supporting application the computer automatically returns to the desired place in the HyperLecture. HyperLecturing delivers the power of the computer to the classroom, without the complexities normally involved in running a computer. Since writing on the blackboard can be virtually eliminated, HyperLecturing frees the instructor to devote more class time to teaching economics and less time to writing on and erasing the blackboard. Student comments reveal their appreciation not only for greater legibility, but specifically for the increased classroom discussion HyperLecturing facilitates.

Besides aiding the organization and presentation of lecture material, HyperLecturing makes several other contributions to the classroom learning environment. For example, launching a graphics program allows the instructor to demonstrate economic concepts using precise diagrams (straight lines, smooth curves, legible text, etc.). Curves can actually be shifted, not simply duplicated further to the right or the left by drawing another line (although when desired for effect, this method too can be accommodated). With the click of a button, an instructor can launch a spreadsheet application for use in different types of "what if" analyses and demonstrations that involve calculations too numerous and time consuming to perform in class. Spreadsheets enable instructors to provide instant or simultaneous visual representations of numerical analyses, or to display and manipulate data describing the performance of an economic variable under consideration. In my experience using this lecturing style students have reported that features like increased discussion time, seeing curves shift, and performing "what if" analyses, give HyperLecturing a clear advantage over traditional blackboard presentations. These features make classroom presentations clearer and are, therefore, some of their favorite elements of an electronic blackboard.

As alluded to above, the use of supporting applications like graphics and spreadsheet programs extends to the demonstration and incorporation of ancillary software and now accompanies many of the current textbooks. An additional benefit of regular computer usage in the classroom is that instructors have at their disposal all of their previous instructional materials from the entire course as well as material from other courses or scholarly activity in which they are engaged. Having such resources at their disposal often allows instructors to respond immediately to students' questions rather than having to postpone, or perhaps never complete, a discussion while students are most interested.

After hyperlecturing for over three years now, perhaps the single most significant advantage to this form of computer aided instruction is one that pervades each of those outlined above. With the instructor's back now seldom turned to students, eye contact with them can be maintained virtually the entire time, enabling the instructor to more accurately gauge students' comprehension of course material and to determine where additional clarification needs to be made.


Linkages involves the incorporation of existing computer applications, such as electronic spreadsheets and word processing programs, along with skills learned in other courses, as part of students' learning experiences outside the classroom. Instructors can draw upon other student interests by linking the current course environment to experience gained in other courses. In addition, instructors can promote the transfer of skills from one context to another and encourage students to do the same thing in the future with the skills' they are currently developing. Students often fail to see the potential application of material from one environment in a subsequent, similar, yet different environment. Linking current with previous course work provides them an opportunity to overcome this deficiency.

Since it is already a common feature of computer applications courses and many classroom oriented computer simulations, consider the use of an electronic spreadsheet. An instructor might bring in a completed spreadsheet program, perhaps even supplemented with effective macros, and use that program to conduct interesting and informative "what if" or "sensitivity" analyses. Students undoubtedly learn from such experiences, but probably not as much as when the spreadsheet is thereafter linked in a direct fashion to assigned homework problems. Such problems could range in difficulty from deflating GNP to solving dynamic equilibrium models. In many cases students perceive the demonstration of a completed spreadsheet program as simply another black box. Linking the spreadsheet application to homework assignments and class projects not only helps students become more proficient in using one of the tools of an economist's trade but it also helps them develop better understandings of the economic relationships being studied. A representative example of this learning process comes from studying the importance of assumptions regarding inflation, economic growth, and interest rates in estimating budget deficits. Several students reported that the spreadsheet assignment which required them to investigate alternative values for these assumptions made it easier and more interesting to see the impact of seemingly insignificant changes in the values of these variables.

Educational research that supports this method of instruction is summarized in Klauer's 1989 paper on the subject of analogical transfer, "the transfer of a basic structure through one or more instances to another instance." (Klauer p. 180) He reports findings by Reed, Ernst, and Banerji (1974) that suggest transfer occurs more readily if students are told the relationship between similar tasks and if they experience a more difficult task first. Klauer also reports findings by Gick and Holyoak (1983) and by Bassok and Holyoak (1987) that suggest greater transfer occurs when at least two exemplars are taught and when the similarities and differences between them are made clear. Finally, he describes the use of guided discovery to present appropriate examples. He emphasizes the use of a large number of examples noting that students' ability to recognize a given structure, understand its implications, and apply that structure in relevant situations contributes significantly to the occurrence of analogical transfer.

Economics, with its emphasis on model building and the application of general models to a variety of settings, provides an ideal environment for the fostering of analogical transfer skills. For example, an ISLM model can be used to address a series of different policy issues. The development and demonstration of this model in the classroom are time consuming and tedious, but when assisted by an electronic spreadsheet, instructors can quickly provide students with the benefit of seeing several different issues addressed using the same model. Or, the same issue can be addressed using different assumptions about the model's exogenous variables and underlying parameter values. Students who are then asked to go home, solve their own, perhaps simpler, versions of an ISLM model, and write their own versions of a corresponding spreadsheet, can begin to more efficiently address several different problems using that model. Linking economics and computer applications in this manner provides students with increased exposure to and usage of the economic models taught in the classroom and promotes the type of analogical transfer of which Klauer spoke.

At least four distinct benefits occur to students working and learning under this paradigm. First, they either reinforce and improve existing spreadsheet skills; or, as mentioned above, they learn an important skill regularly used by practicing economists. (Whether accurate or not, students report an interesting byproduct from homework assignments involving electronic spreadsheets: the development of a skill they feel more likely to use in the workplace than their ability to make policy decisions using an economic model). Second, since algebraic solutions are necessary for spreadsheet programming, students experience first hand a practical application for the solutions they derive from the models instructors assign them to solve. Third, in setting up their spreadsheets, students receive further exposure to, in fact are required to grapple with, the differences between model parameters and exogenous or endogenous variables. Finally, when asked to solve multiple problems using a spreadsheet they have constructed themselves, students not only save time performing repetitive calculations, but are more familiar with the model and what the spreadsheet is doing for them. The black box is de-mystified and becomes a useful tool.

Another area of linkage, or transfer from other courses, can take place in something as simple as keeping a class news journal. The majority of today's college students are now reasonably familiar with word processors and most participants in an economics class will have had their first English Composition course. Few students will, however, be comfortable with the thought of writing an economic analysis of some current event. Requiring them to find and analyze (not just summarize) current events that relate to topics discussed in class gives them the opportunity to draw upon at least two existing resources and to strengthen the link between classroom theory and "the real world." Besides reinforcing their word processing and writing skills, news analyses require them to recognize the presence and prevalence of economics in the world around them. Finding suitable examples in the Wall Street Journal, or other media publications, is a relatively simple exercise, and completing several news journal assignments during a semester dispels the myth that economics fails to connect with reality. (Since incorporating news journal assignments in my courses over three years ago, I have yet to hear this complaint voiced from students in my classes.) Finally, requiring students to write about economic news gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of course material in a less threatening environment than a timed exam.



The most typical objections to the use of HyperLecturing are the trouble of equipment setup at the beginning of each class period and the time requirement involved to develop HyperLectures. Equipment setup time will vary depending on individual circumstances. Computers on a cart, perhaps the same one instructors use in their offices, can often just be wheeled into the classroom making setup time minimal. I began HyperLecturing using a Macintosh SE/30, which was carried to class in a Mac luggage bag, and took about 3 minutes to setup. Recently I began using a PowerBook, which requires even less time. Developing HyperLectures can be as simple or involved as an instructor wishes to make them. Individual slides are created using basic graphics drawing tools incorporated in the HyperCard program. Computer literate instructors, therefore, already possess most of the necessary skills. But, as with any worthwhile project, startup costs do exist: the initial slides and programs must be drawn and written; and depending on the individual instructors, the development process can become quite time consuming. However, in contrast to the use of regular overhead transparencies, making changes to existing HyperLectures in a much more efficient, and less expensive, process. For example, when updating economic statistics there is no need to update the slide, print out a new copy, and make another overhead transparency. You simply change the numbers and you are through. Similarly, with experience, adding a new slide to enhance a previous lecture requires less and less effort.

The slides found in Figures 1-4 briefly demonstrate the ease with which HyperLecturing programs can be written. The highlighted area in the center of Figure 1 represents a "button" which you can open by double-clicking on it with the mouse or by using the pull-down menu on the menubar. You will then be presented with several choices as shown in Figure 2. To tell HyperCard that clicking the mouse on this button should take you to the Price Adjustment and Aggregate Demand slide you simply point to "Link To. . ." and click the mouse. At this point you are presented with a "Link To" dialogue. To complete the linkage to the Price Adjustment and Aggregate Demand slide you simply find that slide as shown and click on "This Card" as shown in Figure 3. In the same fashion, similar instructions can be placed in the "Graphically" and "Numerically" buttons. For example, by double-clicking on the "Numerically" button and choosing "Script" instead of "Link To" you can tell HyperCard to open up the file called "Price & Income Dynamics" using the application Microsoft Excel. Figure 4 shows how this instruction is given (which is just about like writing an imperative sentence). Now whenever the "numerically" button is clicked HyperCard will automatically open this file and application, leaving the instructor free to introduce the next activity, or whatever else seems appropriate, rather than "run" the computer.

Computer Application Linkages

Figures 5 and 6 show two screens from the spreadsheet file, "Price & Income Dynamics." Figure 5 shows the numerical response of several endogenous variables to a 5% price shock.(1) With the ability to display this type of information, and to change it instantly by altering any of the model's assumptions, instructors can demonstrate whatever feature of the model they desire. For example, Figure 5 illustrates the over- and undershooting associated with the economy's return to equilibrium after a price shock; but change the value of the parameter [Lambda] to zero, so that expectations play no role in the adjustment process, and the return will be gradual. Clicking once on the horizontal scrollbar of this spreadsheet brings you instantly to the graph displayed in Figure 6. This adjustment diagram is generated from the corresponding columns in Figure 5 and changes automatically at the same time the numbers do when changing the assumption about inflation expectations. Classroom demonstrations of this nature, when linked with homework assignments where students construct their own spreadsheets for use in addressing various issues, provide opportunities for the type of analogical transfer described earlier in this paper to occur.

News Journal Linkages

A couple of observations about the use of journal entries might be appropriate. After experimenting with several forms of journal writing guidelines, I find that students produce the highest quality work when they are given well defined grading criteria and broad latitude in linking news items to course topics. The grading criteria with which I have become comfortable address four areas by asking the following questions: Does the journal entry: 1) include proper documentation, 2) explain how and why this news item relates to the class discussion corresponding to this journal entry, 3) demonstrate good incorporation of class material, and 4) go beyond class material or extend ideas to new areas? My overall impression of writing clarity and idea expression is also a factor. Finally, regarding their weight in determining course grades I suggest a less pressured approach where news journals serve as a method of increasing students' understanding rather than as a source of differentiation between them. Students repeatedly express the belief that these news journal assignments contribute significantly to their interest in the course and to their learning of course content.

Survey Results

The 1992 spring semester presented an ideal opportunity to test this teaching methodology's usefulness for improving student attitudes towards learning about and using economics. A colleague was teaching the same course and using the same book, but without the aid of computer assistance in the classroom (HyperLecturing) and without using homework assignments interwoven with data and news analyses, spreadsheet assignments, and simulation exercises (Linkages). His was a straight lecture, quiz, and multiple choice exam approach to classroom instruction; and he was willing to provide the control group. Although this arrangement did not overcome the heterogeneity problem with respect to either students or instructors, it did overcome the obstacle, if not the impossibility, of one instructor teaching the same course using two different pedagogues. The ability to actually do this without bias towards one method or the other is an issue of major concern. It appeared to be an ideal experimental setting complete with a control group (traditional lecture and exams) and an experimental group (HyperLecturing, Linkages, and exams).

We administered both pre- and post-surveys to students involved in all three of the sections offered that semester. (I taught two sections of about 25 students each and my colleague taught one larger section of 35 students.) On the pre-course survey we found that students generally expected the experimental environment to be more difficult, yet provide more skills that would be useful in the workplace, and impart a better understanding of the economy. On the post-course survey students rated the experimental course environment to be more difficult than they had expected while they rated the control environment to be less difficult. They did feel that the experimental environment had provided them with more skills that were useful in the workplace and a somewhat better understanding of the economy. In general the evidence we gathered indicated the presence of two different course environments but not which particular characteristics distinguished one from the other beyond the experience itself as a whole. We were unable to determine whether the difference was attributable to the computer usage in the classroom, to the news analyses, to the hands on usage of real data, to the simulation environment using spreadsheets, or just to the individual instructor. The evidence also seemed to suggest that our samples suffered somewhat from the presence of self-selection bias. Those who were interested in a technological environment with hands on opportunities selected into the experimental course while those who were not chose the other option.

Measuring the effectiveness of any particular teaching method is difficult, without complicating the challenge by attempting the measurement of several course components simultaneously. We were less than satisfied with the results we obtained but have not again had the opportunity to repeat such a comparison. For the past few semesters, however, I have attempted to gather the type of information we found lacking in the original survey by questioning class members about the contribution they felt each course component made towards their mastery of the material. The results of these surveys suggest a meaningful contribution for each of the components described above and are presented in Table 1 below.

Factors Contributing to the Mastery of Course Material

In your opinion, how much did the following course
components contribute to your mastery of the course
material? Mean Std.

homework assignments 4.105 0.859
personal interaction with the instructor 3.965 0.925
class participation and discussion, including lectures 3.842 0.978
group participation on homework assignments 3.614 1.221
reading the book 3.596 0.923
computer exercises on homework assignments 3.250 0.968
news journal assignments 3.088 1.023

Note: Anchors on the likert scale were 1 = no contribution and 5 = major

Besides the evaluation of individual course components, these surveys were developed to measure some of the "linkages" by-products through including questions designed to gauge students' attitudinal changes towards various aspects of the course and their curriculum.


These questions requested before and after responses in several categories and then paired t-tests were performed on students' responses. Both the questions and their results are presented below in Table 2. Judging from students own evaluation of this teaching and learning environment, it seems to provide a valuable experience.

The 1994-95 academic year will again present an opportunity for another direct comparison between the two teaching methodologies. This opportunity will be superior to our last experience since we will be able to eliminate most of the potential for self-selection bias. My colleague will be teaching two sections of the course in the fall and I will be doing the same in the spring so students will not be able to choose between instructors during the same semester. We have already begun discussions for expanding the current attitude survey to include a skills component and to track individual students through the semester so that each student's progress can be measured. This approach should allow better monitoring of the extent to which a HyperLecturing and Linkages course environment improves student learning of and attitudes towards economics. Such an approach to empirical verification of this teaching pedagogy should be superior to either of the survey only methods previously employed.


HyperLecturing opens another dimension of computer aided instruction and incorporates another level of flexibility into the classroom learning environment. Instructors gain efficient access to any computer application they wish to use in the classroom and to hundreds of electronic overhead transparencies. Students no longer have to wait for instructors to write on the blackboard and instructors, consequently, gain greater eye contact and increased classroom discussion with their students. This streamlined instruction process provides more time to teach more economics, or to simply cover the same material more thoroughly. With the explicit addition of an interdisciplinary component, Linkages open new dimensions of experiencing economics by drawing on, and refining or reinforcing, skills learned in other courses. Together, HyperLecturing and Linkages provide two valuable resources for the instructor of economics.


This spreadsheet uses the ISLM model from Hall and Taylor's Macroeconomics. The variables and parameters are defined as follows: Y* = potential income, R = the interest rate, a = autonomous consumption, b = the marginal propensity to consume, t = the tax rate, e = autonomous investment, d = investment sensitivity to the interest rate, G = government spending, g = autonomous net exports, m = the marginal propensity to import, n = export sensitivity to the interest rate, M = the money supply, k = income sensitive money demand, h = interest sensitive money demand, [Lambda] = price adjustment sensitivity to expected inflation, and f = price adjustment sensitivity to economic conditions as measured by the GNP gap.


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Gick, M. L., and Holyoak, K. J. 1983. "Psychological Differences Among Problem Isomorphs. In N. J. Castellan, Jr., D. B. Pisoni and G. R. Potts (eds.), Cognitive Theory. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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Porter, T. S. and T. M. Riley. 1991b. "Developing Good Graphs!" Cheer. 14 (November): 26-29.

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Smith, L. M., and L. C. Smith Jr. 1988. "Teaching Microeconomics with Microcomputer Spreadsheets." Journal of Economic Education. 19 (Fall): 363-382.

Yoho, D. L. 1989. "Fairmodel: Microcomputer Software to Teach Macroeconomic Concepts." Journal of Economic Education. 20 (Winter): 107-113.
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Author:Gillette, David H.
Publication:American Economist
Date:Sep 22, 1994
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