Teaching Microeconomics: Tips and Techniques

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ABSTRACT

College of Business majors generally find the required microeconomics principles course to be difficult and abstract. In contrast, at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi there is a more positive attitude toward microeconomics because the teaching style is not "chalk and talk," and there is emphasis on ownership of the course by business students and faculty. Students become "course owners" by participating in activities during the semester that include giving fast-feedback on guest speakers, videos, course material; preparing a notebook for each phase of the course; reporting on various research topics via Internet, that include the conditions of the labor market, through researching their own career interest. The business faculty also buy into ownership by challenging students not to be "turned off" by the microeconomics course and by expecting students to acquire skills that will be useful in their advanced business courses. With new teaching techniques practiced during the past four years, more than 80% of respondents to a microeconomics survey at A&M-CC agree that all students should be required to take an economics course in college.

INTRODUCTION

Approximately 1.5 million students enroll annually in introductory economics courses in the United States. Very few of this number intend to seek a career as an economist (Nasar, 1995). Almost all students who do major in economics are primarily interested in business as a career, not economics (Klamer and Colander, 1990). Students are not "drawn" to the area of economics as much as they are "pushed" because almost all schools of business require an introductory economics course. So it is with dread, fear, and trembling based on the perception that economics is too difficult and too abstract that most students wade through this required course.

When Texas A&M University -Corpus Christi (A&M-CC) made macroeconomics a part of its core curriculum, meaning that all full-time students would be required to take it, the economics faculty set out to change this attitude of fear students had for economics. They asked themselves three questions: 1. What do students need and expect from economics? 2. What do business faculty expect from principles of economics courses? 3. What teaching techniques can make economics principles more relevant? From surveys, trial and error, economic professors gained new insights and perspectives on how to make principles of economics more friendly.

STUDENT EXPECTATIONS

At A&M-CC, 80%-90% of students enrolled in microeconomics classes are majoring in some area of business administration. What students expect, other than making a passing grade, is to enjoy their economics course and to be able to relate economics to their major. After some initial revision of teaching methods, faculty began surveying students in 1997 to see how they felt about economics. Results are tabulated in the following table. The respondents were rather evenly divided among sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Although respondents were not random, they were from several different sections of microeconomics, and they were promised anonymity.

Although none of the students were majoring in economics and concern for their major was their primary interest, their responses to the two questions in the table indicated that a high percentage of students thought economics was an important course for all students to study. It should be noted that the 1999 data was collected early in the semester, whereas in the two previous years the surveys were taken toward the end of the semester. Conclusions are that as students become active learners in the course, they become owners of the course and thus develop a more positive attitude about the importance of economics.

FACULTY EXPECTATIONS

Both business and economics faculty have similar expectations for the microeconomics course. Each expect that the micro course will equip students with skills and knowledge necessary to be successful in the upper-division business curriculum; i. …