Using Movies as a Vehicle for Critical Thinking in Economics and Business

Article excerpt


Teaching economics via edutainment efforts is surfacing as a modern approach to supplement, or substitute, for traditional chalk and talk (Becker, 2003). The cost of using conventional chalk and talk to teach, rather than more contemporary outcome-based methods, may be significant in the long run as students choose to move away from economics and into more lively and interesting classes (Becker & Watts, 2001). Some economists have adopted teaching techniques that deviate from the pure lecture method by incorporating movies, television, and other forms of popular culture (Watts, 1998; Kish-Goodling, 1998; Formaini, 2001; Leet & Houser, 2003; Mateer, 2005; Sexton, 2006). Although it is possible that popular culture vehicles are more likely to fully engage students in the learning process, designing a framework that incorporates entertainment without compromising educational rigor can be a challenge.

The purpose of this manuscript is to provide a framework where movies can be applied to the learning environment in economics courses that focus on critical thinking. This paper is divided into four sections. First, a discussion of critical thinking, learning outcomes, and the role of assessment is presented. This is followed by extensive examples of potential discussion questions that can be used for movies with a general theme of corporate governance, ethics, and society. The third section presents a discussion of the critical thinking rubric used in the course. The fourth section offers concluding remarks.


The focus of education has changed from an emphasis on the amount of material presented (i.e. how many chapters can a class finish in a semester?) to the comprehension of select learning outcomes (i.e. how do I show what my students learned?). The change in focus is due in part to the prominence of assessment in the educational process. Assessment has become the norm at most institutions. The assessment process typically focuses on identifying skills that students are expected to learn, usually referred to as learning outcomes, and then verifying that students have sufficiently gained these skills. The learning outcomes are not merely a recitation of facts but instead concepts and techniques that students must be able to understand and demonstrate.

Many disciplines such as accounting, finance, and management information systems have projects or simulations that can be used to exhibit student comprehension. Other disciplines such as marketing, international business and political science have case studies through which students can display their skills. However, economics, due to its breadth of topics, does not lend itself to just one capstone event. Furthermore, many economics programs include a variety of courses that lack a defined core objective which makes a single project insufficient to demonstrate student knowledge. In comparison, accounting programs typically prepare students for the C.P.A. exam while technology students learn specific programming skills.

One key attribute of all economics classes is the emphasis on critical thinking skills. Problems and situations are presented and through a clear and defensible thought process, potential outcomes are discussed. The development of critical thinking skills is one of the main roles that economics plays in either a liberal arts or a business curriculum. The importance of critical thinking skills is where economics differentiates itself from the other disciplines. While all disciplines use critical thinking, the process of analyzing many real world situations is based on fundamental economic theories.

The focus on assessment has also come at a time where universities are competing more for students and working harder to retain those students. Kuh (2004), writing about the conceptual framework for the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), finds that what students do in college is more important to their success at learning than who they are or where they go to school. …