Teaching Undergraduate Economics: A Handbook for Instructors.
This is an excellent set of 22 essays that should be required reading for all economics instructors. It is by and large well written, and it comes in bite-sized chunks for easy bedside reading. It covers virtually every aspect of teaching with a focus on the principles course.
Most of the book is not new. About half of it has been written and revised by the authors over the past 20 years. I first encountered several of the essays in 1979 when I served on the American Economic Association's (AEA) Committee on Economic Education, and I used them extensively as a staff member at five AEA teacher-training programs between 1981 and 1983. At the time, they formed the basis of what was called the Resource Manual for Teacher Training Programs in Economics, which was distributed to graduate students and faculty members who were participants in those programs. I still have my copy today and I am delighted that they will now get wider circulation.
Most of the authors (there are 26 of them) have been working together to improve the quality of economic education for over 20 years. I worked with 10 of them on those teacher-training programs over 15 years ago.
The best chapters in the book are the ones that have been around for the longest time. I suppose they have been critiqued and revised the most. My favorite is Phil Saunders' essay on "Learning Theory and Instructional Objectives." It contains in capsule form an entire course on the modem schools of thought on how students learn. It covers in a clear and understandable way what we do and do not know about learning, and it treats the various paradigms with an even hand. I found myself saying "of course" several times. Certainly taking the time to read this little chapter beats a year at "ed school."
My second favorite chapter is written by Lee Hansen and Mike Salemi on "Improving Classroom Discussion." Here the authors steal a page from the Great Books Foundation's materials distributed to participants in Great Books discussion groups. I was a reasonably good lecturer coming out of graduate school, but I couldn't get my students to talk. I asked rhetorical questions and got little response. Ever since I read this essay, I have used the kinds of question clusters that are proposed with great success.
One of the great lessons of the teacher-training experience for me, and I believe for most of the participants, was the great power of watching yourself on videotape. No single event has taught me more about my own teaching effectiveness than that experience. But videotaping can be a traumatic experience if it is not done carefully and constructively, particularly for those who are not naturally gifted teachers. Mike Salemi has a thoughtful essay on the use of tape in faculty development programs and as a self-evaluation tool.
Another chapter of very practical value that came from the original Resource Manual is the essay on lecturing by Saunders and An Welsh. The authors present in a very concise way some 15 tips on organizing and delivering a lecture. Again, many teachers will find themselves saying "of course" to many of the arguments but picking up some "revealed wisdom" in others. While I had read the piece some years ago, rereading it reminded me of some bad habits that I had fallen into.
Before getting into the practical stuff, the book leads with a few essays by well-known and experienced principles instructors (Robert Frank, Michael Boskin, Campbell McConnell, Kenneth Elzinga, et al.) that make enjoyable reading but are little more than thoughtful reflections on the nature of the principles course. While I enjoyed reading them, I found myself wanting to argue points with the authors. There is not a lot to take away from these chapters.
There are a number of other good essays and a few that I found dated and not very useful. I never, for example, like discussions of the material in text books. The piece by Walstad, Watts, and Bosshardt is a discussion of the content of a selected set of books without any real discussion of the pedagogy involved in the books. But that's probably sour grapes because they didn't include mine (Case and Fair) and because we spent a lot of energy on pedagogy.
The good thing is that a reader can tell from a quick skim what each chapter has to offer. I read them all since I was reviewing the book, but I would probably have read them all eventually anyway. It really is a book that should be on every economics teacher's list of things to read.
Karl E. Case Wellesley College
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|Author:||Case, Karl E.|
|Publication:||Southern Economic Journal|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1999|
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