Using case studies in Introductory Economics

Contact: Prof. Monojit Chatterji
Department of Economic Studies, University of Dundee
m.chatterji@dundee.ac.uk
Published October 2001

The "Global Economic Perspectives" course is the first exposure to University economics for students reading for the four year MA, BSc, and B Fin. Honours Degrees. In common with all traditional Scottish Universities, students in the MA and BSc programmes may change their programme of study at any time up to year 3. Hence many of the students on this module will be taking it as a "taster" of economics. Most of the students on the course will not have studied economics before. Thus the course must serve several objectives which are not easy to reconcile. It must motivate those students who are "tasting" to continue with Economics. It must be accessible to students who have not studied economics before. Finally, it must be sufficiently interesting to those students who have studied economics at school.

The course attempts to meet all these objectives by an unusual approach. First it is based entirely on case studies. The lecturer develops each of the cases himself. Thus to illustrate principles of investment the following two case studies are used :a historical one of early merchant ventures in 17 and 18 century, including the formation of the East India company and the modern stock market. The material is presented as a set of "stylised facts". Then the simplest economic analysis is used to "explain" the facts. In this way, students are motivated by understanding the power of economics to explain social phenomena such as trade and exchange, merchant ventures and the stock market, and modern factories. An explicitly numerical approach is adopted whereby students learn the problem solving power of economics. Instead of formal proofs, simple numerical examples are used to illustrate important economic ideas. Students are taught how to use Excel in solving these problems, thus enhancing an important transferable skill.

The lecture material is delivered in class using the university's upgraded IT network. This is particularly helpful in explaining graphs and Excel spreadsheets as the students can observe the lecturer doing the calculations in front of them. Potential problems can arise here if the IT back-up is not adequate.

The module is integrated into the degree programme in two ways. First, the choice of topics caters to the special needs of students reading Economics, Financial Economics, and Business Economics with Marketing degree schemes. Secondly all students who take this module must continue with the second module which takes a more formal, conventional approach.

Student feedback as well as the examination results were very encouraging. The main issue for using this approach in more advanced modules is finding suitable case studies since the theoretical development depends crucially on suitable case studies.

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