Quick note on teaching my intro course

One of the ideas I explored this summer was the finding that students bring misconceptions into a course that need to be explicitly refuted if learning is to be transferable. It turns out that there is not that much known about what these misconceptions are in economics. What I plan to do this term is start each new topic with a question that illustrates a possible misconception. For example, for the topic we began yesterday (The Theories of Supply and Demand), I posed the following question:

An increase in the price of a product leads to a decrease in the amount people buy (what economists call ‘the quantity demanded’). But an increase in demand for a product leads to an increase in the price.

Is this a paradox?

Before the end of the topic, I’ll make an explicit effort to show students how that question should be answered.

I also plan to pay careful attention to what the students are learning and having trouble learning this semester so that I’ll have a better idea next time what the misconceptions are.

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3 Responses to Quick note on teaching my intro course

  1. Robert S Rycroft says:

    I absolutely love that question, and plan to steal it this semester. I think you need to be careful about the distinction between a misconception and a definition. To an economist a change in quantity demanded is a movement along a demand curve and a change in demand is a shift in the curve. There is absolutely no reason why novice students should know that because it is just the lingo of the discipline. A misconception is a fundamental misunderstanding about how the economy works. An example might be the belief that “greedy” corporations cause inflation, when the reality is that “inflation is everywhere and always a monetary phenomenon.” Teaching definitions seems like an easier task than altering their misconceptions.

  2. Isaac says:

    You know… it strikes me that, as a student, I could be turned off by the attention you are paying to dispelling rumors about economics. When I go into a classroom, I take a strategy of suspending disbelief. I take what I’m being taught as a face-value representation of the broader understanding of a topic. It’s a principles course, and I’m not expected to argue the minutiae of, say, Keynesian economics with my professors. Critical thinking should be encouraged, but I would suggest, somewhat controversially, that in a principles course the point is to learn the principles, not go to war with them.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are some assumptions at the basis of mainstream economics that should be debated in some way, shape, or form in EVERY economics class: rationality hypothesis, free market ideology, etc.

    But there is something to be said for a little bit of “sit down and shut up” at the very beginning of the semester, when you are going over the basic ideas and definitions. That is, after all, what most freshmen think they are paying for. Starting off with an “everything you think you know is wrong” lesson plan… well new students are probably willing to grant that. It need not be drilled into them, and I can empathize with some people (you-know-who) feeling that you’re assuming they’re unwilling to grant you the benefit of the doubt and take the subject matter at face value. It could be interpreted as unnecessarily combative.

    I imagine this going through the heads of some students: “Ok, I believe you, economics is the study of how people allocate scarce resources to satisfy unlimited needs. Let’s roll with that for now. I’ll object later on when I have had time to really understand your perspective.”

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