Teaching World Economic Issues in the General Education Curriculum, with an Emphasis on Asian Case Studies

Article excerpt

Introduction

The need for an education that includes the importance of international trade and the reach of globalization in a coherent form to all university students is an imperative of our times. However, most international economics texts rarely pay attention to the complexity of issues and problems facing individual nations. The problem is two-fold in that most international texts are focused heavily on theories, and that they are generally not easily adapted for teaching at the introductory level. Even in upper level international economics courses, students understandably complain about the inability to comprehend the relationship between basic theory, and real-world economic issues and problems. Since these theories often lead to confounding conclusions in the dynamic world of new technologies and rapidly increasing international trade, parsing the issues faced by individual nations has become a necessary building block for developing an understanding of this new phase of globalization. In this article, I describe a project to help general education students, who take an introductory course in World Economic Issues, write country/ region reports, and make oral presentations.

Developing Country Reports

This project develops skills for connecting and analyzing data and recent news using basic economic theories. Students also learn how to do research, learn from reviews and critiques, prepare reports and develop creative skills in crafting presentations. Students are divided into groups in this course. Each group of students is allowed to pick a country, or a region, by the third week of the quarter. In presenting students with a choice of countries, I focus on the themes that have dominated the media during the preceding six months. For example, in Fall 2004, I discussed China, India, the Middle East, and the European Union. Typically, five students are assigned to a region, or to a country, though that depends on the number of students in the course. On average, 40 students take the World Economics Issues course.

The project consists of three distinct phases involving initial data collection and writing, a proposal for the country report, as well as an oral presentation. A student is expected to refine and revise the initial proposal using my remarks and the remarks of other members of the group. During the oral presentation, other students are expected to analyze and evaluate the reports in the form of critiques. In the final phase, the students submit papers that also include a self-evaluation report which is reflective in style and discusses the entire process of initial proposal submission, crafting the presentation, as well as the peer review of the presentation.

The First Phase

In the first phase of the project, students are allowed to pick countries and write a one-page report. Usually, the process involves an initial group discussion and a few reading assignments in which students follow their instincts about countries that they may find interesting to them. They are required to find information about domestic and international economic indicators, geography and natural resources, history and political economy, the monetary system and trade as well as other relevant socio-economic issues.

The initial reading assignments are from texts in the area of comparative economic systems, popular magazines, such as the Economist, as well as web based articles. At this stage, students are broken up into groups of five. Students discuss the purpose as well as the scope of the project within their groups and decide how to divide up the work. While the entire group participates in the initial research, each member is ultimately assigned to one particular sub-category, within a country/ region. The specific topics on a country/region may vary slightly, but are usually focused on geography and natural resources, history and political economy, monetary system, trade and current economic issues. …