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5.2 Case study 2: Electronic teaching of economics at a well-resourced institution

Dr Mary Perkins, Howard University, Washington DC, USA

I have been using the Web in economics courses (Principles of Economics (Macro), Introduction to Macroeconomics, International Economics, International Commercial Trade Policy, and Economic Development and Planning) for 8 years. Many of these courses have more than 100 students each semester. I have also trained and advised other faculty, in economics and other disciplines, in the use of the Web.

My intentions in introducing the Web into my economics courses were:

An important decision I faced early on involved the selection of a textbook with good Web support. Major economics textbooks are accompanied by a website and in some cases the publishers provide specialised Web development and course management software. In addition, some publishers provide an economics-specific online learning site as well. For Principles of Economics courses, I chose McConnell and Brue (2001), which is integrated with Pageout, template-driven course management software that can be used to build a customised course website. The publishers, McGraw-Hill, even provide Web hosting at no cost to the user. The text website contains tutorials (interactive and otherwise), graphing kits, chapter-by-chapter PowerPoint slides, links to economic websites and current economic event sites, videos (streaming and VHS), 'contact the author' sections, career centres, bulletin boards, etc. Students have access to my Principles of Economics course website, which is integrated with the text website and the online learning website.

Implementation has been easier due to the level of support received from the university. In addition to training and teaching assistants, I have been able to offer most of my Web-enhanced economics courses in 'smart rooms'. The intelligent 'roomware' in such facilities includes computer projection equipment, linked via high-speed connections to the internet, and teaching consoles with touch-pad controls that allow instructors to use and project audio and video tapes, show cable TV programmes and access computer applications from diskettes, CD-ROM, the internet and so on. Smart rooms also come with smart whiteboards, which not only show Web material, but also can be written on, or manipulated via touch to capture images, print them, etc. Students can download lecture notes directly from the whiteboard on to their laptops.

Use of these advanced facilities allowed me to integrate advanced multimedia presentation materials into lectures rather easily. Each semester, I lead students on internet 'safaris' to train them how to use economics websites most efficiently. I find that such 'hands-on' instruction works better, especially at the beginning of the semester, than passing out internet assignments.

Students have found the level of required interactivity challenging but instructive. In the online discussion area, I frequently post economics questions to which answers are due by the following class. Students work in groups, using the Web both to communicate with each other.

The Web has been of special importance in the service learning group projects that I assign each semester. In these projects, students are to offer substantial assistance to the community, and to learn something about an assigned economics topic in the process. In one semester, for instance, a group built a website to help the publicity and fundraising efforts of a community organisation serving the homeless. The group used their own group website (see http://groups.yahoo.com/) to communicate and build the community site, as well as to research key issues in urban poverty. A second group conducted a teach-in on campus on the economic costs of a potential war with Iraq, using the Web to research the topic.

I use the course website for announcements, to create quizzes and exams, to host discussions, maintain a grade book, etc. This has facilitated course management and reduced time spent in tutorials conducted in the office. With teaching assistants, I use the Web to monitor students' progress, to identify those in need of help and to assess whether they are grasping the material. We can drop in on group discussions, or view the results of individual interactive learning sessions. Such advantages are more important with larger courses.

I consider this multi-year experiment in Web pedagogy to be a success, and students have echoed those sentiments in course evaluations. Nevertheless, the added functionality of a Web course has, on balance, increased the amount of time I spend on my courses. Time was taken up in the early years by the steep learning curve, and even today links need to be updated and reviewed for continued relevance, economic headlines need to be brought to the attention of students, and new possibilities for Web-based learning need to be explored. Finally, I also utilise the Web in teaching graduate courses, but the approach is necessarily different. Naturally, there is less course management, but a greater need to help students learn how to conduct high-level research. I accomplished this goal by giving graduate students exclusive access to my research site, an economics research and learning portal that I maintain on an ongoing basis.

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5.1 Case study 1: Using the Web to teach economics: a personal reflection
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