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Teaching Economics: Lessons from the Fields

Paper Session

Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (EST)

Hosted By: American Economic Association & Committee on Economic Education
  • Chair: Allen C. Goodman, Wayne State University

Teaching Policy Analysis

Christine Durrance
University of Wisconsin


Understanding how to make the world a better place requires interdisciplinary knowledge. Public policy analysis helps policy makers arrive at informed policy choices with a credible expectation of expected outcomes. The policy analysis process involves public problem definition and data collection, stakeholder identification, rationale for government involvement, evaluation criteria, and identification and analysis of policy alternatives. Economics informs how we think about public problems, evaluate relevant research, identify policy alternatives, and select optimal solutions. Policy analysis involves understanding markets and market failures. Students must understand market failures (failures of price taking; perfect information, private decisions, public goods) and use as a basis for government involvement (plus government failure and equity justifications). Learning is facilitated through in-class examples of contemporary topics (e.g., taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages) and an iterative writing assignment (a policy brief), where the student selects their own topic (a public problem), conducts research, and writes an analysis following the policy analysis process. Other innovations include in-class assignments, peer-review feedback, communication of written results in group presentations, and discussion leadership responsibilities.

Teaching the Economics of Sports

Michael A Leeds
Temple University


Teaching The Economics of Sports presents unique opportunities and difficulties. This course can be a boon to departments, as it reaches beyond the normal audience for upper-level Economics classes and attracts students from a wide array of majors. In this essay, I discuss three prominent challenges.
First, the abilities and interests of the students vary much more than in a typical class. Many students think they will spend the semester discussing trades and boxscores. Instructors must set appropriate expectations at the very beginning of the class.
Second, the variance of skills means I must review models from introductory Economics. Technology allows me to do this without using up valuable class time. I construct a hybrid class in which students watch brief videos about basic concepts. They then take a short online quiz on what they have watched.
Finally, I provide a valuable summative experience that all students are capable of completing. I use a presentation technique called pechakucha. Students present 20 slides containing only images, each of which appears for 20 seconds. This has proven a valuable and enjoyable way for students to show what they have learned.

Economic Perspectives in Criminal Justice and Public Policy Education

Juliette Roddy
Northern Arizona University


The theories and practices of economics is of particular importance in teaching students, researchers and practitioners in the broadly defined fields of criminal justice and public policy, especially for those in graduate education. Criminal justice practice and policy professionals are facing increased scrutiny due to cost growth in policing and incarceration even as crime declines (Executive Office of the President, 2016). While practitioners and policy makers are anecdotally convinced of successes in the field, they are often challenged in their understanding of quantifiable benefits of accepted practice versus the costs of those interventions. It becomes imperative that professionals in the field have a fundamental understanding of opportunity cost, marginal cost, average cost, benefit cost analysis and cost effectiveness in order to support an efficient criminal justice system. In addition, exposure to measurement regarding quality of life allows for a broad understanding of benefit calculation. Innovative teaching strategies involve case studies and participation in evaluation planning. Teaching challenges include the necessity of integration of economic principles in courses where students have had no previous exposure to economic teaching methods and theories. Programs that encourage students to participate in efficient practice of criminal justice must successfully integrate economic principles into their curriculum.

A Simple App to Teach Regression

Luke M Froeb
Vanderbilt University


This paper introduces a web app for teaching regression that "inverts" the usual pedagogy. Rather than asking students to run regressions on data, it asks them to "create" data to achieve a given outcome, like a statistically significant line. By clicking on an (x, y) graph, students watch as the regression line, with its confidence intervals and statistics, is redrawn with each new data point. We describe three self-guided exercises, designed to teach the ideas of statistical significance, and correlation vs. causality.

The Rich Palette of the Economic History Curriculum

Price Fishback
University of Arizona
Michael Haupert
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse


Nobel Laureate Douglass North described the task of economic history as “the study of performance and structure of economies through time.” Training economic historians to teach and perform research requires the study of how to combine the economists’ modeling and statistical methods with the methods used by historians and the other social sciences. It often involves learning how to search for quantitative data from a variety of sources and then building panel data sets that match the data found with existing data sets. Researchers also must work with narrative sources to develop an understanding of the historical context and the political, social, and economic institutions that influence the research questions. In some settings the analysis focuses fully on narrative evidence because it is the only material available. A key feature in North’s definition is his discussion of “through time.” Modern studies are restricted because the future is unknown, while economic history can examine issues in both the short, intermediate, and long run.
JEL Classifications
  • A2 - Economic Education and Teaching of Economics