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Financial Crisis Group Activity with Sources

David Moglen, Foothill College and Evergreen Valley College
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project

Summary

This activity ultimately generates for students functional knowledge of the causes and structure of the Financial Crisis which caused the Great Recession, and likely solutions to react to this crisis and help avert future crises. Through seven different group assignments, small groups study their assigned articles and provide written answers to their unique question sets. Next, through verbal class discussion, the small group findings are synthesized into a cohesive whole.

Learning Goals

Students gain from this activity far more than the historical touchstone moments of the Financial Crisis (e.g. the collapse of Lehman, Bear Stearns and AIG, TARP, and the Federal Reserve Bailouts). They also acquire a working understanding of bubbles, recession-inducing crises, and financial derivatives.

Context for Use

This activity is ideal for undergraduate economics students at universities and community colleges. Any class size up to 140 students is ideal. For example, in a 35 student class, each group of 5 students is assigned one of the 7 group article & question sets. Larger class sizes, such as one with 140 students, has 4 groups doing each group number - 4 group 1's, four group 2's, etcetera all the way up to 4 group 7's. The teacher then has to be careful, when for example, there are 2, or 3, or 4 group 7's, that at least one question from the group 7 question set is asked of each group 7 during the verbal class discussion.

Description and Teaching Materials

Note to Instructors:

This introductory statement is phrased as a message to students. Assign each group of up to 5 students a group number from 1-7, and tell them to read the assigned articles for their group and think about (or even begin to sketch out) the answers to their group's questions.

Introductory Message to Students:

In-Class Project: Subprime Mortgage Meltdown/Banking Crisis Group Work

Directions:

Once you are assigned a group number from (from Group 1-7 below), take five to ten minutes to meet with your group, and begin planning how you will coordinate your responses. Then everyone should go read the links (articles) assigned to your group, and type your rough draft answers to the questions. When your group emails their rough answers to each other, start to synthesize the best parts of your members' contributions into one answer you are happy with for each question. Alternatively, you may want to lessen your workload by coordinating with your group so that question 1 assigned to your group (let's say you are Group 3 below, for instance) is done by person A, person B is responsible for question 2, etcetera. Your group should determine what is the fairest distribution of the questions for your members.

When you have your answers finalized, put all your names on the top of the first page and staple all your pages together. Your teacher will pick whatever questions they feel are most pertinent for your group to answer verbally, explaining your group's response to that question.
Financial Crisis Activity with Sources and Questions for Groups (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Nov18 13)



Teaching Notes and Tips

Instructors may want to refer to the Starting Point Cooperative Learning module for advice about group work. This is available through visiting: http://serc.carleton.edu/econ/cooperative/index.html

Unless this is being taught to more advanced students, it is important to precede the assignment with a bit of lecture on the Financial Crisis. While we want students to arrive at their own conclusions after doing their group's reading and answering the questions, it is necessary to provide some framework. This can consist of some brief comments about the fact that there was a financial crisis which cause the Great Recession from November 2007 to June 2009. Brief mention of mortgage derivatives can be given at this point, or just wait until it comes up during the class discussion if you prefer. Ideally students will describe this and other key cogs in the crisis on their own, but their descriptions may need some instructor support.

An entire two or even three hour session is ideally devoted to the whole-class discussion once final group answers are typed up. Prior to this, if time allows, some portion of a previous class can be given for groups to discuss how much they can answer already and coordinate how to answer what they do not know. This class time in-advance of the main discussion, however, is not required, and even if given students are still expected to do the bulk of their research and writing outside of class.

Optional modification for instructors concerned about individual accountability for group activities: Each person can be assigned one of the group's questions, and they can be fully or partly graded on their individual response to that one question. Partial grading would mean they are partly graded on the value of their individual (one-question) response, and partly on the value of their whole group's quality of work (e.g. 50% individual score and 50% group score for each student on the Financial Crisis Assignment).

Assessment

Written responses to group questions are judged on accuracy, depth of thought, and clarity of ideas. Optional tactic for instructors who want to see ore individual work than group work: make each student answer one of their group's questions, and put their name on their response. Individual credit is also given as verbal responses are tracked during the whole-class discussion which concludes the activity.

To reiterate the optional modification for instructors concerned about individual accountability for group activities: Each person can be assigned one of the group's questions, and they can be fully or partly graded on their individual response to that one question. Partial grading would mean they are partly graded on the value of their individual (one-question) response, and partly on the value of their whole group's quality of work (e.g. 50% individual score and 50% group score for each student on the Financial Crisis Assignment).

Additional scoring occurs (whether using the individual accountability method or not) when the whole-class discusses the issues verbally, which can be credited using participation points for the participation portion of their overall class grade. This discussion is typically somewhat structured and somewhat loose and open-ended, since the teacher wants to get some detail from each group - by asking for article summaries, reading questions directly from the group assignments in the activity, and/ or asking a prepared additional question or two of each group that their assigned article has sparked in the instructor's mind. In addition to the structured aspect of the discussion, this topic opens so many doors of inquiry beyond the discussion question that students from all groups can be credited for meaningful contributions throughout the day's dialogue.

References and Resources

Please see the numerous web resources (article links) in the uploaded activity file entitled: "Financial Crisis Activity with Sources and Questions for Groups."

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