Designing a course is a creative endeavor. I don’t mean just creating a new course, but rethinking, re-presenting a course you have taught before, even many times before. This design creativity seems so personal to me, but I imagine every serious teacher does something similar.
Before each semester I find myself thinking about what changes I will make to each of my courses. I find myself asking “What will be the theme of the course this time, that is, what theme makes the course relevant for this time and this place and this cohort of students?” The obvious theme for several of my courses this coming term is the 2008 financial and economic crisis.
The purpose of the theme for each course is to hook students, to make the course “sticky” by hopefully showing its relevance. (No theme has ever grabbed students’ attention more than the current economic situation.)
Sometimes the theme requires major changes in the way I structure the course; sometimes it’s only a slight change in focus. I rarely start out to complete a “major revision” as it’s called at my school, though sometimes it works out that way.
Let me discuss how this will work in a couple of my courses. The first is Macroeconomics, one of two intermediate theory courses we offer. The goal of the course is to teach students to manipulate economic models to derive insights about macro issues and problems. The theme (or outer wrapper) of the course will be to explore three questions: What is the mechanism by which the financial crisis led to a recession? How is the recession likely to play out? What are the optimal policy responses given where we find ourselves? The first major change to the course will involve reordering the topics we explore–in recent years it’s been common in the discipline to teach the long term issues of economic growth and productivity change before the short run issues of business cycles. This time, it makes sense to switch those so that we learn the tools necessary to understand the recession earlier rather than later. The other major change will be to explore the role of financial markets in a bit more depth than we usually do. For this, I hope to draw on the text we used in the big wiki experiment, several years ago.
The second class is a senior seminar in International Finance. This is always an interesting class to teach; the way I teach it, it’s not a technical course, but rather very much an interdisciplinary one. I recruit students to try to obtain a group which is one third economics majors, one third business, and one third international affairs. That way, we can draw on the expertise and perspectives of all three disciplines. We spend the first half of the course learning the nuts and bolts of international finance, and then in the second half we explore broader issues in international finance, usually focusing on some foreign financial event or concern. This year, the joke is on us–the theme will be to explore the global implications of the U.S. Financial/economic crisis.
In both of these cases, I will frame the theme as a research question, for which there is no generally accepted answer yet, and which we will publish when completed.
Feel free to follow along: econ304.umwblogs.org and econ482.umwblogs.org.