Using the Mississippi River Watershed Module in Principles of Microeconomics (Honors)

Laura Jackson Young, Bentley University

About the Course

EC111 Principles of Microeconomics (Honors)

Level: An introductory course for non-majors/majors. Required for all business students. Honors designation requires membership in the Honors Program.
Size: 21 students
Format: In-person, synchronous

Course specific exercise »

Course Description

The study of economics is broadly divided between microeconomics and macroeconomics. Microeconomics deals with economic decision making by individual consumers and producers and different types of market structures (e.g. perfectly competitive, monopolies, oligopolies). Macroeconomics aggregates across individual economic units and examines their combined influence on aggregate production (GNP), general price levels, levels of unemployment, interest rates, exchange rates, etc. 

EC111 Honors is a semester-long course which focuses on microeconomics. It is designed to provide the newcomer to economics with an understanding of the economic way of thinking and a set of microeconomic tools and models which will be useful for analyzing real world economic problems.  Lectures will introduce major topics and supplement and clarify reading assignments. Students will be encouraged to use the tools of economic analysis to analyze real world problems through classroom discussion, classroom presentations, and writing activities. 

The students were able to think about it (the wicked problem) at a much deeper level than I had anticipated, acknowledging the breadth (and) the complexity of the issues.

Explore the Mississippi River Watershed Module »

Relationship of the Mississippi Watershed Module to Your Course

Course is 14 weeks long and the module was implemented in weeks 8 and 9. In preparation for the module, students were introduced to topics of supply and demand, market equilibrium, government policy interventions, welfare analysis (consumer and producer surplus, deadweight loss), market failure, and externalities. The students became familiar with the United Nations SDGs at the beginning of the course, allowing for an easier incorporation of the BASICS module. Almost all course applications were structured around the idea of wicked problems and how to use economics to address issues such as gender inequality, poverty, economic growth, etc.

Integrating the Module into Your Course

I taught the module in my Principles of Microeconomics course and I like to teach it really applied rather than just living in the textbook. So I restructured the class and did all the course applications, or at least as many as I could, focused on some sort of wicked problem. I centered the ideas around the UN SDGs. I started the very first class with the intro slides that we had for our module, including the think-pair-share exercise. So then when we got to the component in the class where we did social welfare, government policies, externalities, and stuff like that, then I put the common module right there, and this was very much linked to all of those topics. And then the course specific came right after. And it actually allowed me to have the student synthesize about four chapters worth of material with the common exercise, looking at specific market structures and how a policy could address the market failure associated with externalities.

What Worked Well

The students really liked the big picture applications, I think especially Bentley students, they don't want to just learn the mechanics, they want to know why they're learning it. And so it helped give more of a real-world context to what was going on. I tried to introduce it a little earlier, at least introduce what they would be doing earlier, and that worked well last time. As much as I tried, I still kind of sprung it on them a little bit. And so talking about eventually building up to this big project was a lot more effective this time.

Challenges and How They Were Addressed

Comparing against last time (I taught the module), the students were really overwhelmed with the group work and the amount I asked them to do out of class on kind of a short timeline. Last time I was trying to manage how much in-class time I thought I would need and I ended up allocating quite a bit for them to work in groups on their own time. So this time around, I took a more realistic assessment of how much class time I needed and I built in time for them to get into their groups to collaborate. They did the first stakeholder map in class and then I gave them like the rest of that class meeting to just prep for the town hall, it was like a working classroom and I was there to consult with them. Then when we did the collective class revised stakeholder mapping, I set up a (Google) Jamboard in between classes, so they did it on their own time. Each student had to put their own sticky note onto the Jamboard of stakeholders that they thought we missed the first time around are important ones to highlight. And then during in-class time, I brought it up on the screen and we just kind of grouped them into different categories of stakeholders and we were able to talk about it. That's why I think I did a better job of assessing what to give them time for in the class, also, in prepping for a town hall exercise about something kind of sciencey in an economics class, I think it was useful that I was there when they were working on it rather than just telling them to figure this out before next class.

Student Response to the Module and Activities

They did a really fantastic job. I was super excited about how they worked through the exercise. I definitely think that they grasped the overall topics. They did a really good job in the moment discussing. They learned a lot about their particular identity, but then I asked them to write these brief reflection pieces afterwards, and they're very thoughtful. The students were able to think about it at a much deeper level than I had anticipated, acknowledging the breadth of these issues or the complexity of the issues. Almost everyone talked about how we can't come up with just this quick, easy, it's not just a like rip off a band aid, quick, easy solution. And I really liked the role playing aspect, because they got their identity, but then it forces them to acknowledge that, it is not their true identity and so policies that their true identity might have proposed would affect these fictitious groups in a much more nuanced way that maybe they hadn't considered before. And the reflections, I didn't see this during the town hall, but then in the reflections, they really brought in a lot of their own personal experiences. People talking about their family having a farming background or their parents worked for some government org like an NGO or something. I had some people from the Midwest say that in their group, they specifically talked about Flint, Michigan. So kind of like bringing this water crisis issue to something else that's relevant and timely. So I think they really got it and it was a pretty effective exercise.