ECON 201 Principles of Macroeconomics

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Course Description

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An introduction to understanding the economy (or economies) as a whole.  One of two intro courses in economics.  Serves as a general education course in the social sciences.  Required for a number of majors beyond Economics: Business Administration, International Affairs, and Environmental Science.  Required for certification to teach secondary school, and satisfies the requirement to take one economics course to teach elementary education.

Learning Objectives

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  1. Learn what an educated person should know about economics and the US economy, and
  2. Learn how to analyze issues & problems the way an economist would.

Online Learning Environment Description

This course explores the same content as my traditional face-to-face course, but it does so differently to respect and exploit the differences between face-to-face and online teaching and learning.  (Indeed, I will be teaching a face-to-face version of the course at the same time as my online version.  Students will be using the same texts, completing most of the same assignments, and taking the same exams.)  I hope to design an online course that provides a learning experience that is at least as true to the values of liberal education as my face-to-face course.  How will I do that?

The course will have three web spaces:  The main administrative (think Course Syllabus) website at http://econ201online.umwblogs.org, the class discussion space at http://edisc.economooc.com/, and the MacroMOOC at http://economooc.com , discussed below.  The administrative space will be the “course” website built in umwblogs.  The main website will provide the normal sorts of content on a course site as well as links to the Discussion and MacroMOOC sites.  The contents of these sites will be explained in more detail below.

The Discussion space will take the place of the class sessions in my traditional course.  In my traditional course, I would lead the class through interactive lectures in which I pose questions to help students work through the material.  In this online course, I want to do something similar using a schema I developed some years ago which is explained here.  The Discussion space looks like a sophisticated discussion board, something like “Reddit” but build on a WordPress platform.  Students will be able to post questions, responses (as described below) and comments (i.e. responses to others’ responses).  The principal use of the discussion space will be for the class to identify and explain the major concepts, theories and institutional facts/findings for each course topic as described in the schema.  To do this well requires critical thinking and discrimination: what are the major items and why are they “major”?  Students will initially do this task individually (and I’ll ask them to email me their responses).  Next, I’ll ask each student to post one piece of their analysis in the Discussion space, one concept, theory or institutional fact/finding along with their reasoning for choosing it.  There are fewer major concepts, theories, and fact/findings than students in the class, so the late students will have to comment on others’ responses, either adding reasoning for why the item is “major” or presenting a reason against including that item.  The software allows participants to “vote” up or down responses and comments posted by others.  I will guide the discussion to insure that each item is adequately explored.  I’ve published three papers on how to facilitate electronic discussions so I have ideas for how this can be done effectively.

The final step will be for small groups to take one of the major items and rewrite the posting to clean up the language and make it understandable to someone who is not taking this course.  (I’m considering other possible group scenarios as well, but I haven’t found an approach I like better.)  The resulting document, consisting of revised descriptions of the major items, will be posted on the course website as “Class Notes for Topic #.”

I’ve created a MOOC-like website as a forum for exploring, discussing and developing tentative answers to interesting current questions in macroeconomics.  (The MacroMOOC will use the same software as our class discussion space, but will be on a different website.)  I think this could be a useful experience by bringing more voices into the course than just mine.  I have invited colleagues from Canada and the UK as well as different regions of the US to participate in this experiment.  Since many of the issues I can imagine discussing have subjective /political components, I think it would be a plus to have our students experience diverse views, both among experts and students.

The basic model will be “modules,” each organized around a single main question.  The model might be described as:

  • Pose a question/problem,
  • Solicit initial responses,
  • Identify and explore the facts,
  • Submit evidence,
  • Develop conclusions incorporating both objective and subjective aspects.

One question that I would like to organize a module around is “Which US Presidential candidate’s economic platform makes the most sense?”  I can imagine different responses from people from the US Northeast or say Ohio, people from the US south, Canadians, British, or participants from other parts of the world.  I would want to solicit participation from folks of all political and economic persuasions so students get the full breadth of views.  While I try to be balanced in my presentation of perspectives different from my own, it’s not the same as hearing it from a proponent.  This isn’t primarily intended to be place for people to just emote.  Rather, I want the site to generate an analysis of the underlying economic theories, as well as allowing for subjective conclusions.  It would be interested to unpack the assumptions behind people’s views.  I know my first year students often have strong opinions but aren’t clear on why they hold them.  I think this resource could help.  I plan to assign my students an initial essay, early in the semester before the students have been exposed to the relevant economic theories, to identify the platforms and explain which they favor.  The last essay in the semester will be to rewrite the initial one using what they’ve learned from the class and the MacroMOOC.


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Value One: Community

Ideas for Building Community

I am making three short videos, the first introducing myself, the second explaining how the course will be carried out and the third introducing the course content.  I will ask students to respond to the first video with a short video introducing themselves to the class.  These videos will be posted on the blog page of the course website.

Twitter will be our main communication tool in this course.  I plan to use Twitter to create social presence.  I will be tweeting daily using the hashtag “#econ201online” and I will ask students to tweet regularly as part of their “class participation.”  I will provide daily prompts which students can respond to if they have no other ideas.   I will encourage students to tweet any questions they have about the course, and I will encourage students to answer any questions they can, before I step in.

The course (administrative) website will be configured as a group blog to which each participate can post content.  I will begin with several introductory videos to the course, first by introducing myself.  I will ask students to respond with their own introductory video, telling something about themselves.  The course is writing-intensive, and when a student writes a particularly good essay, I will ask them to share it on the group blog.

Additionally, we will use the collaborative space (described above) to work together to construct the class’ understanding of the text materials.

Finally, I will use the “experimental” nature of this course to build community among the participants.  We will all try to figure out how online teaching and learning works, and I will emphasize that I will not apply any sorts of grade quotas.

The MacroMOOC (described above) may also help build community.

Community and the Course Learning Objectives

The course is designed to help students help each other learn the course content, both the concepts, institutional facts and findings about macroeconomics that an educated person should know and also how to use economic models to analyze issues and problems.  Through teaching others in the class, students will learn more deeply themselves.  Past experience has shown me that the result will not be “bright” students teaching “dim” ones, but rather all students teaching each other.  That is, the teaching goes both ways.  This won’t be effective without a sense of community.

Value Two: Interactivity

Ideas for Building Interactivity

Many of the things mentioned in the previous section on Community will also foster interactivity.


  • I will reply to student emails within 24 hours.
  • I will return student essays with comments within one week.
  • I will encourage students to participate via twitter on a (near) daily basis.  I will provide daily prompts, which they can respond to if they don’t have something else to tweet.  When students tweet questions, I will encourage other students to answer them, but if no one does, I’ll respond within 24 hours. I will ask students to respond via twitter to the student videos and identify something from a video which resonated with them.
  • I will offer both online (via skype) and face-to-face office hours.
  • I will schedule a skype meeting with each student in the class by two weeks into the term.  The purpose of the meeting will be to see how they seem to be managing in the course (and also to make sure their skype connection works).


The activities in the Discussion space will involve interactivity.  After the initial posts and responses, I plan to create small groups with a leader to be responsible for making sure the “final” entry for each “major” element gets revised and published on the course blog.  The leadership will vary from one topic to the next.

There will also be a great deal of interactivity in the MacroMOOC.

I considered trying to use each student’s preferred social media for communication, but I think it would prove too hard to link all the students across a variety of media.  For this reason I choose twitter.

Interactivity and the Course Learning Objectives

This is related to my response to Value 1, above.  Learning works best in a social context which requires interactivity by the participants.  My course is based on a communal constructivist approach in which students build their understanding of the course material, but also because the material is complex, I intend for them to work together to build their understanding.  The most direct example of this is the “class notes” that they will create in the Discussion space, but Another aspect of this will be the MacroMOOC where the questions to be explored have value-based components.  I hope that students will learn from interacting with people of very different opinions than their own.  I also expect interaction to play out on twitter, as well as any other group activities which the students develop, such as studying f

Value Three: Active Learning

Ideas for Building Active Learning

Research is active learning.  The Presidential Platforms assignment on the OCCR asks students to research and critically evaluate the economic platforms of the US presidential candidates.  The assignment will provide the opportunity for students to interact with people from across the U.S. as well as Canada and the UK and determine what they think.

The Discussion space will be used to identify and justify the major concepts, theories and institutional facts/findings in the course content.  It’s not sufficient to simply cut and paste, but rather students will need to discriminate among the breadth of content to determine which content is the most important.  The group activity to clean up each entry will also require active learning.

Interactive Learning and the Course Learning Objectives

Active learning has been shown to be more effective than passive learning.  Students will achieve the learning objectives more readily using the active learning activities of this course than if they simply worked on their own using the texts to learn.  Passive learning is adequate for learning facts, but this course teaches application of concepts and analysis of macroeconomic issues which is better accomplished with the active learning pedagogies described above.

Value Four: Reflection

Ideas for Building Reflection

I have always emphasized “What does it mean?” in this course.  Economics has both a positive (scientific) and a normative (value-based) dimension.  It is easy to forget the latter, but I’m making a special effort in this course to give it appropriate emphasis.  I am using the U.S. presidential election as a frame for motivating the entire course.  (I did this four years ago with some success.  I think it will work better with this online format, especially by bringing outside voices into the course via the MacroMOOC.)  Early in the term, I will assign students an essay to identify and evaluate the presidential candidates’ economics platforms.  This will be before we study the relevant economic models and before the OOCR starts.  I will ask students to write a revised, longer version of the paper at the end of the course, in which students will have to identify something about the other candidates’ platforms that they most agree with, hypothesize what it is about the other candidates’ platforms that other people agree with, and discuss how their views have changed since the initial paper.

[ I considered having students individual blogs but I decided that that would be too much for the first offering of this course. ]

Reflection and the Course Learning Objectives

Good citizenship requires a basic understanding of economics, not just the concepts but how they affect one’s city, state and nation.  Understanding what things mean and why are critical to good citizenship.  An additional aspect of reflection will be considering where the economic models we study fall short, which some have argued led to the Great Recession.

Value Five: Self-Directed Learning

Ideas for Self-Directed Learning

Online learning by definition requires a certain amount of self-direction.  I speak to this early in on at least two of the three introductory videos for the course: “Welcome to ECON 201,” and “How to Take this Course Online.”

A variety of resources are suggested for each topic in the course, along with a set of learning objectives for each.  Students can choose their own path to learning the objectives combining different resources plus different types of online discussion (see above).

I also plan to meet at least once a semester and more for those who need it (online) with students to scaffold their learning.

Self-Directed Learning and the Course Learning Objectives

Each student will need to construct their own understanding of the course content using a variety of resources and others’ views, but ultimately they need to learn for themselves.


Source: http://umwblogs.org/2012/07/16/econ-201-principles-of-macroeconomics/