Over the Christmas holidays last winter, as I began to plan for my Spring courses, it struck me that it was a truly fascinating time to study macroeconomics and finance. Yes, I realize this is much like the neurosurgeon remarking on how interesting the tumor is in the patient he is treating. Each time I teach a course, I look for a hook that will capture student’s interest. So I wondered how I might exploit the current economic situation to that end.
One result was the international finance course I teach every two or three years, staff permitting. This year I organized the class as a research team to explore the global implications of the 2008 financial crisis and economic recession, an event which was unfolding in real time as we studied it. The dynamics of nearly all aspects of the course, from selecting course materials, to what occurred in class sessions, to grading were different from traditional courses.
Early on we decided that our goal would be to produce an analysis of the “Great Recession,” something that would be useful to people outside the class. At the time we started, there was no such analysis that we were aware of. The result is available at http://2008financialcrisis.umwblogs.org . This is not merely a student project, something only having meaning within the context of the course. Rather, we set out to create a meaningful piece of economic analysis, every part of which I have vetted and believe in.
About the time we had drafted the analysis, we ran into an arbitrary deadline–the end of the semester. I asked students what they wanted to do and a substantial number said they were willing to keep working to finish the project. Roughly half the class continued to work after the semester was over, and roughly half of those were seniors who had graduated. I believe this is evidence of genuine engagement.
After the semester, we revised the analysis and published it on the website above. You should note that the global part of the analysis has yet to be posted. Several of us continue to work on that and hope to have it up in a couple of weeks.
In June I realized that the project could not be completed this summer because the economic crisis has not run its course. I plan to continue the work next year. I have two students from the seminar who have agreed to be team leaders, and I am recruiting a handful of promising sophomore economics majors do to the data collection. We’ll see how far this goes.