It's Rational

Initial Publication Date: September 2, 2010

The Benefits are Large and the Costs are Small

Educators considering adopting an interdisciplinary approach to teaching face both time costs associated with preparation and psychological costs generated by stresses brought about by the uncertainty common to this form of instruction. These costs are likely to be small because most economics educators already possess relevant cross-disciplinary knowledge and, as a consequence, of the standard manner in which economics is taught.

There is a longstanding connection between economics and other disciplines that are typically fused with economics including:sociology, psychology, politics, religion, anthropology, demography, public health, ecology and biology, mathematics, and management. Many economists received formal training as an undergraduate and in graduate school in these fields. Thus, economics instructors often already posses a foundational knowledge of methodologies and frameworks of analysis in key related disciplines which reduces:

  • the time needed to prepare for the delivery of interdisciplinary learning
  • the stress associated with teaching in an interdisciplinary manner.

Economics educators typically teach students how to "think like an economist." This entails:
  • observing outcomes or developments of interest
  • wondering and pondering until an educated guess or hypothesis to explain the developments is formulated
  • evaluating the influence of alterations in this development leading to predicted effects
  • using data to test the hypotheses generated
  • constructing policy proposals based on the empirical findings.

A standard learning technique in economics is to challenge students to identify shortcomings of the analysis applied to any problem or issue they are examining. Typically, the extensions identified are

intradisciplinary - the incorporation of more complex economic ideas or concepts including uncertainty, long run consequences, and spillover effects.

Thus, a natural next step, and hence one that imposes few stress related costs, would be to ask students to consider how interdisciplinary extensions of the analytical framework and analysis can lead to a richer understanding.