Midwest Conference on Student Learning in Economics:
Innovation, Assessment and Classroom Research

November 7, 2003

Conference Proceedings

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“Doing Classroom Research and Getting It Published”


“Using Technology So Students Learn More (and Professors Work Less)”

General Sessions:

Paul Romer “Using Technology so Students Work More (and Professors Work Less)”

  • no paper available
William Becker “The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Doing classroom research and getting published.”

Concurrent Sessions:

Paul Romer –Using web-based experiments and problem sets.

William Becker – “Adam Smith meets John Nash” active learning exercises for the classroom.

"Doing classroom innovation and assessing its value" featuring classroom research being conducted in the Department of Economics at The University of Akron. 

moderated by:  Tom Angelo, Associate Provost for Teaching and Learning and founder of the “Symposium of Teaching Assessment and Learning" at The University of Akron


Richard Stratton, Associate Professor, The University of Akron

Steven Myers, Associate Professor, The University of Akron

Sharon McWhorter, IRB Administrator, The University of Akron

Posters Session on teaching

Joseph Cavanaugh, Wright State University - Lake
Jay Corrigan, Kenyon College, OH
Veree Ethridge, University of St. Francis, IL
Ann Harper Fender, Gettysburg College, PA
Sanjay Paul, Elizabethtown College, PA
Tod Porter, Youngstown State University, OH 
Helen Roberts, University of Illinois at Chicago, IL
Sandara Trejos, The University of South Dakota, SD
Caryn and Daniel Vazzana, Berea College, KY
Julide Yazar, Ohio Wesleyan University, OH
Dwight Bishop and Litza Varonis, The University of Akron


Joseph Cavanaugh (joseph.cavanaugh@wright.edu)
Wright State University - Lake
7600 St. Rt. 703
Celina, OH  45822

How does this online course work? Logistical Issues Involved Teaching Economics Online

Teaching economics online necessitates dealing with many challenges not found in a traditional face-to-face course.  In particular, teaching online requires faculty to develop procedures and resources to deal with special logistical issues. This presentation outlines many of the logistical problems involved when teaching online and then provides possible solutions to these problems.  Common logistical problems include; how students will obtain course materials, how testing is administered to address concerns about cheating, how to include graphing in tests, how communication occurs between students and instructor, and how student evaluations are handled.

Jay Corrigan ( corriganj@kenyon.edu )
Kenyon College
Department: Economics
Ascension Hall
Gambier, OH  43022

Local Residential Sorting and Public Goods Provision: A Classroom Demonstration

Students in undergraduate public finance courses learn that market provision of public goods is generally inefficient due to the non-excludable and non-rival characteristics of such goods.  Centralized government provision of locally consumed public goods may also prove inefficient due to heterogeneous preferences or heterogeneous opportunity costs.  Accordingly, neither centralized nor market institutions are likely to efficiently provide local public goods.  This classroom exercise illustrates the Tiebout hypothesis that residential sorting across multiple jurisdictions leads to a more efficient allocation of local public goods (Journal of Political Economy, 1956).  The exercise also demonstrates problems that arise when certain assumptions of the Tiebout model are not met.  The classroom at first comprises a single community of students with heterogeneous preferences for a public good (dorm parties); the students determine the level of taxation to be used for pub lic good provision via a simple voting mechanism.  Next, the classroom divides into two communities, each of which determines its own level of public good provision.  Then the students have the opportunity to relocate to the community where the bundle of public goods and taxes better suits their tastes.  At first some students must stay in their original location, but in the final treatment all students become mobile.  After each round of sorting, each community determines a new level of public good provision.  Students see how welfare rises as sorting becomes more complete.  This game highlights the usefulness of markets in general and the assumptions necessary for a well-functioning market to reach an efficient outcome.  The third round of the exercise may foster classroom discussion about "white flight" from inner-city school districts, as it shows how some immobile individuals become worse off when mobile individuals move.

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Ann Harper Fender (fendera@gettysburg.edu)
Gettysburg College
300 N. Washington Street
Gettysburg, PA 17325

Using Economic History to Teach Economic Principles

History performs wonderful economic experiments, albeit not always wonderful for the experiments' involuntary subjects. The Great Depression of the 1930s is one such "experiment" that illustrates both macro and micro principles. Many novels, movies, and photographs related to this period are readily accessible both physically and intellectually to undergraduate students. In a writing intensive seminar course for first year students, I use this period as a case study to elucidate the principles of macroeconomics. Other historical eras and events make attractive case studies around which to base the principles course.

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Sanjay Paul (pauls@etown.edu)
Elizabethtown College
1 Alpha Dr
Elizabethtown, PA  17022

Gimme Interaction! Utility Maximization in a Nutshell


We have developed three interactive online exercise sets designed to complement the treatment of utility maximization in principles textbooks.  Exercise Set 1 deals with indifference curves, Exercise Set 2 deals with the budget constraint, and Exercise Set 3 ties the preceding two together in depicting the solution to the problem of utility maximization for a consumer.

Goals and Methodology:

Each Exercise Set shares the following elements:
1. A set of learning objectives. This section clearly identifies the important terminology and concepts (e.g., Diminishing Marginal Utility)
2. Data to be used for the main problem. This section includes the equations, variables and parameters used in the model. This section also includes the interactive calculator (using JavaScript) and explains how it is to be used.
3. In this section, we pose a series of questions based on the data in the preceding section. These questions require students to select values for certain parameters, draw sketches, solve equations, and obtain certain endogenous variables. Furthermore, students are required to change parameter values and conduct comparative-statics exercises.


The questions posed in Section 3 provide students ample opportunities to practice solving problems dealing with indifference curves, budget constraints and the determination of the optimal bundle. In my Principles courses, I use these Exercise Sets in the class as a means to assess the students' grasp of basic concepts in utility theory, their ability to perform arithmetic calculations, and engage in economic reasoning.  I make it quite clear that the Exercise Sets also form the basis for homework assignments and tests -- thereby encouraging students to attend to the exercises with greater vigor.

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Tod Porter ( tsporter@ysu.edu )
Youngstown State University
DeBartolo Hall, One University Plaza
Youngstown, OH  44555

MarketSim: An Internet-Based Simulated Economy for Principles of Microeconomics

Supported through a National Science Foundation grant, five faculty at Youngstown State University have been working on a pair of simulations that student participate in asynchronously over the Internet.

In the first simulation, Jeremy's Market, students take on the role of households in an economy in which each household is a producer and consumer.  The households have different utility and production functions, and can trade among themselves.  The simulation can be used to illustrate the principles of opportunity cost, utility maximization, and gains from trade.

In the second simulation, Adam's Market, students are responsible for a household and a firm.  As a household, the student decides how much labor to sell and how much output to buy.  As a firm, the student determines how many units of labor to hire and the amount of output to produce.  Firms, optionally, can also purchase capital, change industries, and issue bonds.

The program is designed to service large classes and includes a number of support features to assist the instructor.

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Sandra Trejos ( strejos@iupui.edu )
The University of South Dakota
414 E. Clark St.
Vermillion, SD  57069

Online teaching and learning at IUPUI

The poster would present how students' learning is enhanced when traditional teaching uses an online environment to extend classroom activities. For instance, how discussion forums, chat rooms, and answer to in clas questions on-line allow students to express their thoughts , apply their knowledge and go beyond the time and space limits imposed by the classroom.

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Veree Ethridge ( vethridge@stfrancis.edu )
University of St. Francis
Business Administration 
500 Wilcox
Joliet, Il  60435

Money Simulation on the Web

In order to assist students in understanding the money creation examples presented in principle textbooks, a simulation program was developed to give them a chance to follow the creation of new money in the banking system.  The program offers the student the chance to repeat the exercise until they have mastered the concepts.  Once the student is satisfied with their score, they then email the results to the teacher.  The students are also given an accomodating worksheet that shows the balance sheets appearing in the program. The worksheet gives the students a working copy of the responses they entered into the program.  Since using this interactive web program, students have scored higher on the average on the section of their economics exam covering money creation.

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Helen Roberts (hroberts@uic.edu)
University of Illinois at Chicago
601 S. Morgan #2103 (m/c 144)
Chicago, IL  60607

Helping Beginners Teach Economics

Beginning teachers need more lecture examples, applications, and discussion topics.  Beginning students need a structure on which to hang the wealth of information in an economics course.  UIC's  12 economics classic contributions, "What Everyone Should Know About Economic Theory," is part of a support website for beginning teachers.  It includes favorite examples, interactive classroom exercises, discussion articles, and suggested questions.  Designed for UIC beginning economics teachers, it is up on a secure website at UIC as part of their mentoring and support.

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Caryn and Daniel Vazzana (caryn_vazzana@berea.edu)
Berea College
Economics and Business
CPO 2036
Berea, KY  40404

Service Learning in Economics--One Department's Experience

Our poster outlines the different service learning projects our department has implemented within some of its courses (Principles of Microeconomics, Environmental Issues, Economics of Race and Gender, Labor Economics, and Econometrics).  A description under each course will describe the project/assignment, its role in the course, and the community, and some of the critical outcomes.

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Julide Yazar (jjyazar@owu.edu)
Ohio Wesleyan University
Department of Economics
S Sandusky Street
Deleware, OH  43015

Interactive  exercises in consumer theory using a virtual consumer

In the past decade, there has been considerable interest in using computer-based learning tools to complement economics teaching at various levels. In this poster we present a novel suite of interactive computer-based exercises in consumer theory. In these exercises students interact with a  virtual  consumer (HAL) to learn about his preferences through structured question-answer sessions. Then the students use their findings to make predictions about the consumption patterns of the  virtual  consumer. 

In the first set of exercises the students are asked to estimate HAL s indifference curve that passes through a given bundle X by asking HAL to rank various consumption choices. Optionally the program can help students to visualize HAL s answers by automatically constructing a set of bundles preferred to X and a set of bundles that X is preferred to, under the monotonicity (and optionally convexity) assumption on preferences. The students are then asked to apply their findings to answer a series of questions in consumer choice theory such as: given the price vector below, find the bundles that are cheaper than X but preferred to X by HAL. In a related exercise the students are told that HAL s preferences are one of the idealized cases (perfect complement or perfect substitute). With this prior information they are asked to discover the indifference map and make consumption predictions using their findings. In the second set of exercises the students are given a consumption c!
 hoice of HAL and then try to estimate HAL s preferences by asking him to make more consumption choices under price and income values of their choice. Students use direct and indirect revealed preference arguments to trap the indifference curve between the worse-off and better-off sets using monotonicity and convexity assumptions. The program can help the students to visualize their findings graphically. Again the students apply their findings to answer a series of questions in consumer choice theory. A variation of the above exercises is used to investigate HAL s attitude towards risk. The students ask HAL to rank various insurance policies (parametrized by a fee and a deductible) to learn his preferences in the state contingent wealth space. Then the students can use their findings in designing insurance policies, such as the full insurance policy that is most profitable for the insurance company.

In each case the instructor can easily modify the underlying utility functions or make it a random choice between previously determined options so that each student will get a different set of exercises. We observed that most students are intrigued by the investigative nature of these exercises. The exercises helped them to improve and test their understanding of consumer theory. The experiments with the virtual consumer also illustrate the students how we can learn about the consumers  preferences by observing the choices made by them and the value of this information in making policy decisions.

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Dwight Bishop (dbishop@uakron.edu) and Litza Varonis (varonis@uakron.edu)
The University of Akron
Design and Development Services
Bierce Library 274A
Akron. Ohio 44325

An Exercise in Hard Choices

For over 20 years, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (www.crfb.org) has been sponsoring An Exercise in Hard ChoicesSM, a budget debate that asks participants to role-play members of Congress as they deliberate over the current year’s budget. The University of Akron is now piloting electronic versions of the Exercise and the Exercise scorecard in order to increase citizen and student access to the debate. 

We invite you to use the Exercise with your classes, either in a traditional face-to-face version (normally taking three hours to complete) or in one of three electronic versions:
1. An asynchronous version using WebCT (taking place over several weeks).
2. A synchronous, computer-to-computer version using a Macromedia Flash Communications server.
3. A synchronous, site-to-site version using Polycom video-teleconferencing.
Students are placed into small groups based on a demographic questionnaire to insure diverse viewpoints. They then review the issues and agree or compromise on 14 decisions relating to: goals (size of government; budget discipline); outlays (11 separate decisions); and revenues. At the end of the Exercise groups discover whether they met their initial goals and have an opportunity to revise goals or spending/revenue decisions.


For more information:
Department of Economics
The University of Akron

Dr. Michael Nelson
(330) 972-7546 

Dr. Steven C. Myers
(330) 972-7421

Sponsored By:  Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation, Inc., Committee On Economic Education, American Economic Association, APLIA, Inc., The University of Akron Institute For Teaching And Learning, and The H. Kenneth Barker Center For Economic Education at The University of Akron.