Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Active Learning in Macroeconomic Principles

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Active Learning in Macroeconomic Principles

Article excerpt


Several scholars of economics education suggest 'active learning techniques' as more effective than the traditional lecture method of teaching economics. The Coast Guard Academy's core economics course became more oriented towards active learning with the introduction of learning teams, discussion modules, and writing and group exercises into its pedagogy Fall 2001. The paper places the experience in broad contexts of general and military education, and explains its basic structure and results.


It is generally recognized that most members of arts and science faculty in American universities are satisfied with the traditional lecture method of teaching, and therefore hardly experiment with any different pedagogical technique. This is true in economics departments as well. Most academic economists consider it more satisfying and rewarding to do research in their narrow field of specialization rather than in pedagogical issues of their subject. The sentiment is understandable because, usually, such research is an extension of their graduate work, and therefore the terrain is more familiar and rewarding than any unknown path. However, this does not offer much help to improve their undergraduates' grasp of economics, or to ameliorate their fear of the subject. (Benedict, M.E. 2002). What is more ominous to economics education is that the same trend is spreading through an increasing number of undergraduate economics departments of four-year colleges as well. (Beeker. 1997)

The Context


Many scholars attribute the declining attention to economic education to a decline in the share of undergraduate economics courses relative to graduate courses, and to the undergraduate faculty's growing perception of a "need to demonstrate they behave like faculties in graduate programs" (Becker. 1997, 1349). As Becker noted, such a faculty attitude did not appear in a vacuum. It has been sanctioned, and even encouraged, by almost half a century of shifting intellectual foundations of higher education, away from their liberal arts moorings, and closer to education and training in the professions. A proliferation of professional programs like business, law and information management in most universities and colleges, an increasing trend in name-change of many liberal arts institutions from 'college' to 'university' (thus suggesting a change in the focus of their mission from teaching to discipline based research), and a substantial increase in the research funding allocated in the institutional budget, all point to declining attention to the scholarship of teaching. Faced with a shrinking pool of potential student applicants, an increasing number of these programs seek greater legitimacy thorough accreditation, and it too has intensified the pressure on faculty to reallocate their time in favor of discipline based research, further reinforcing this trend. In all likelihood, the relative homogeneity of the cultural and academic background of economics faculty too helped to maintain the statusquo ante. According to the Becker Watts Survey of 1996, an undergraduate economics teacher is a male (83%), Caucasian (89%), with a Ph.D degree (86%), "lecturing to a class, while he writes on the chalkboard and assigns reading from a textbook...." (Becker 1997, 1354). With the average teacher devoting 83% of the class time to lectures, without hardly any use of audio-visual tools or computers, he continues to be the central actor in a "passive learning environment that does not engage students" (p. 1354). Many others researchers also have recognized an identical picture. For example, see: Siegfried, John J. and Fels, Rendings. 1979.

Much of the burden of this trend is felt in the teaching of introductory economics. In many cases, such a course is left to the relatively inexperienced faculty members, more determined to improve their tenure chances than teaching effectiveness. …

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