Evaluating Robert Frank’s ‘Economic Naturalist’ Writing Assignment
This paper begins by asking a fundamental question: why do students who take Economics at an introductory level often leave the subject without understanding even the most basic economic principles? The superficial answer seems to be that courses try to cover too many concepts at the expense of mastering the important threshold concepts. Another issue is the way Economics is taught and assessed. I will evaluate an alternative pedagogical device pioneered by Robert Frank: ‘The Economic Naturalist Writing Assignment’, in which students are asked to pose an interesting question about some pattern of events or behaviour they have personally observed (a real life event) and to use basic economic principles to solve the question in no more than 500 words. In addition to being a useful means for teaching economics at an undergraduate level, this writing assignment has practical benefits for teaching economics through real world examples and/or to students who are non-specialists. I will conclude with a series of questions (and answers) posed by students when I piloted this writing assignment in a new subject of mine in 2010.
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- W. Lee Hansen & Michael K. Salemi & John J. Siegfried, 2002. "Use It or Lose It: Teaching Literacy in the Economics Principles Course," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 463-472, May.
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- William E. Becker, 2004. "Economics for a Higher Education," International Review of Economic Education, Economics Network, University of Bristol, vol. 3(1), pages 52-62.
- Walstad, William B. & Rebeck, Ken, 2002. "Assessing the economic knowledge and economic opinions of adults," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 42(5), pages 921-935.
- Peter Davies, 2011. "Threshold Concepts in Economics Education," Chapters, in: International Handbook on Teaching and Learning Economics, chapter 24 Edward Elgar Publishing.
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