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Evaluating Robert Franks Economic Naturalist Writing Assignment

  • Wayne Geerling


    (School of Economics, La Trobe University)

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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Paper provided by School of Economics, La Trobe University in its series Working Papers with number 2011.03.

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Length: 21 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:trb:wpaper:2011.03
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  1. Becker, William E & Watts, Michael, 1996. "Chalk and Talk: A National Survey on Teaching Undergraduate Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(2), pages 448-53, May.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Aaron Steelman, 2005. "Book review : The relentless pursuit of incentives. "Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything" by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner," Econ Focus, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, issue Sum, pages 46-47.
  5. William B. Walstad & Ken Rebeck, 2008. "The Test of Understanding of College Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 547-51, May.
  6. William E. Becker & Michael Watts, 2001. "Teaching Economics at the Start of the 21st Century: Still Chalk-and-Talk," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 446-451, May.
  7. 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.
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