Big Think: A Model for Critical Inquiry in Economics Courses
This paper outlines a concrete strategy for addressing the critical inquiry gap in undergraduate economics education, building on the work of Colander and McGoldrick, who argue that economics students currently do not receive sufficient exposure to ‘big think’ questions: ill-structured questions that invite students and instructors to interrogate arguments, evaluate assumptions, and discover serendipitous connections across courses and disciplines (2009b: 5-6). Our goal is to operationalize the Colander/McGoldrick proposal: to use learning theory to develop two ‘big think’ units to supplement existing course materials. Each unit is designed to enhance learning by increasing students’ ability to (1) apply economic principles to practical situations, (2) integrate knowledge over time and subjects, and (3) employ higher order skills of analysis and synthesis. These sub-goals support the overarching aim of liberal education: “to qualify students to make informed decisions about their lives and communities long after their college experience” (Siegfried et al. 1991: 202) and to prepare them for lifelong learning and intelligent participation “in a messy, puzzling, and complicated world, in which there is absolutely no substitute for one’s own active searching” (Nussbaum 1997: 35).
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