Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Is There Such a Thing as a Free Textbook?

Academic journal article Journal of Economics and Economic Education Research

Is There Such a Thing as a Free Textbook?

Article excerpt


There has been much research into effective teaching of economics including the role of homework and assignments, peer effects, and technology. Further, there have been a number of studies examining the differential effect of online versus face-to-face teaching.

Frank (2002) described "The Economic Naturalist", a set of assignments used to teach introductory students how to speak economics. Students had to use an economic principle to explain some pattern of events or behavior that they had personally observed. Although no quantitative evidence was provided to show improved learning and understanding, anecdotal evidence suggested that students did become better speakers of economics with their classmates, families, and beyond the course.

Joerding (2010) found that students who received unique homework exercises did better on subsequent exams than students who received traditional paper assignments that were identical across students. The suggestion is that unique assignments encourage student to find solutions to problems rather than just answers. Lee, Courtney, and Balassi (2010) however, found that students did no better, or worse, when using the Aplia online homework system compared to traditional paper assignments. It is not clear whether students were assigned unique questions in Aplia. One problem with these kinds of studies is that they compare one group of students who completed paper assignments with another group who completed Aplia assignments. This makes it difficult to know whether differences are due to the type of assignment or difference between one class and the other. Kennelly, Considine, and Flannery (2011) overcame this problem by using one set of students who completed some assignments on paper and some on Aplia. They found little evidence that the way a student completed an assignment has an effect on how they performed on the related exam question.

Parker (2010) using student performance data from 9 years of an undergraduate macroeconomics class found no evidence of free riding in effort of weaker students in collaborative assignments. Both students contributed to assignments in proportion to their abilities. He pointed out that this may be specific to his institutions and warns of extrapolating results to other institutions and courses. Munley, Garvey, and McConnell (2010) develop further the idea of peer effects by analyzing the effectiveness of peer tutoring. Peer tutoring programs typically utilize advanced undergraduates who have successfully completed the course to lead a small group of enrolled students through some problem solving sessions. The evidence from over 14,000 students was that an hour per week of peer tutoring increased the student's grade by 0.3 on a four point scale (e.g. from a B to a B+).

Technology has increasingly been advocated to enhance instruction but studies provide mixed results on its efficacy. Savage (2009) for example found no difference in student performance when one section of an Intermediate Macroeconomics course could access recordings of the lectures after the class via the internet. Savage suggested the lack of difference may be because the recording did not add anything new that was not already covered in class. Ghosh and Renna (2009) experimented with a Personal Response System that allowed students to anonymously answer questions and provided the instructor and student with real-time assessment of learning. In a survey, students overwhelmingly welcomed the technology for its ability to reinforce concepts and gauge their understanding. They were less certain that it improved their performance in class. Salemi (2009) reported that 85 percent of students in a Principles of Economics class thought "the use of clickers helped me to learn".

Studies of online versus face-to-face instruction have similarly returned mixed results. Coates, Humphreys, Kane and Vachris (2004) found that, after correcting for selection bias, online students performed significantly worse than face-to-face students on the Test of Understanding College Economics. …

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