Parallel Computing in the Computer Science Curriculum > Workshops > SIGCSE 2012 > SIGCSE 2012 > Data Rich Economic Policy Brief

Data Rich Economic Policy Brief

Nathan Grawe, Carleton College
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This material was originally developed by the the National Numeracy Network
as part of its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.


The Statue of Liberty
posted by aloha orangeneko on flickr under creative commons

The economic models of competitive, monopolistic, monopsonistic, and oligopolistic markets are powerful tools. But they are of little use if students cannot apply them in context. This assignment asks students to do just that-apply the economic models to a policy debate, preparing a brief for a decision maker.

But economic theory in the absence of contextualizing data lacks influence. How many people may be impacted by the proposed policy? Are the changes in policy large or small? Is there a pressing need addressed by the policy? How do we know? What are the opportunity costs (ie forgone policy possibilities)? This assignment exposes students to useful data sources for providing context to their arguments.

Learning Goals

This assignment is intended to help students learn:

Context for Use

This assignment is used at the end of a Principles of Microeconomics course. It could easily be adapted for use in field courses or advanced theory courses.

While the assignment itself is completed outside class, my experience is that students need considerable instruction in presenting data, tables, and figures in their papers. While my students are very adept at interpreting and critiquing presentations in others' writing, most have not used data, tables, and figures in prior papers and so require teaching in this area. I set aside a full lecture period to talk about this aspect of writing. If you have an RA with technical writing experience, this might be effectively done outside class.

Description and Teaching Materials

The assignment handout contains all of the information students will require to complete the task. Included in the assignment are suggested sources for basic economic data. For professors seeking more ideas for data sources, consult the data subsection of the Resources for Economists website (


Teaching Notes and Tips


The assignment notes 5 evaluation criteria:

The rubric included above provides students with qualitative feedback on their work. It does not include numeric values for each category because I am not sure that I want to simply "add up" the scores in the various sections.

References and Resources