Theme: The Future of Learning, Academia, and the Field of Economics

Premiere: Friday 18 June 2021 starting at 3pmBST/10amEDT

Curated by UCL ChangeMakers Student Partners, June Hong (Y1) and Xuyi Wang (Y3)

From methods to teach upcoming problems for which humanity has not found a solution, major changes in the position of academics in the job market, to teaching that challenges established assumptions, we wrap up our week of asynchronous sessions with a glimpse into what economics may look like in the future.  

How might the coming climate crises change the way we teach economics? Using the Green Business Lab © to help students connect the dots

Becky Haney, Calvin University

Matt Heun, Calvin University

Samantha Svboda, The Green Business Lab

Premieres: 3pmBST/10amEDT


Climate change is a complex and ill-structured interdisciplinary grand challenge problem that lacks a simple solution. Teaching about such problems is fraught, because there is no “answer key,” collaboration across disciplinary boundaries is difficult, and differing assumptions and methods can inhibit success and reduce likelihood that objectives will be shared and interpretation of results can be agreed. Yet, students should develop dispositions and attitudes that enable working on grand challenge problems like climate change. An important question is “how can we teach and learn when the instructor doesn’t know the answer?” We argue, based on lived experience in the classroom, that team-based learning pedagogies using realistic in-class simulations are an effective way to teach undergraduate students interdisciplinary problem-solving skills applicable to grand challenge problems, even at the introductory level. We provide an example of implementing those pedagogies with the Green Business Lab, an extended and realistic business simulation wherein students play roles as managers who design, market, and sell an electric-powered “SphereMover” in a competitive market. Benefits of the Green Business Lab include co-construction of meaning among students, high levels of student engagement, and enhanced instructor satisfaction. Students learn boundary-crossing skills and gain confidence to integrate knowledge from different disciplines. Practical tips and implementation suggestions are discussed.

Presentation paper: download here

Changes in US Academic Economics Departments

Gina Pieters, University of Chicago

Christopher Roark, University of Chicago

Premieres: 3:30pmBST/10:30amEDT


We document the evolution of the number of economists in tenure-track and non-tenure track part-time and full-time positions at USA academic economics departments from 2005 to 2018, and job postings for USA located, academic positions from 2014 to 2019. Non-tenure full-time academic positions are increasing both in number and share in the representative department, with full-time non-tenure track economists now comprising approximately 10% of academic economists. We also provide evidence of the importance of the 2008 recession in department composition, and evidence consistent with a broad decline in tenure-success. Concurrently, we find that the number of academic job postings for tenured/tenure-track positions declining at an annualized rate of 2.4% even as new PhD’s increased by 1.9%, while postings for postdocs doubled, and postings for teaching-specialist economists remained constant. These results imply that the profession is undergoing fundamental shifts in its job market that has, to the best of our knowledge, not been formally documented and calls into question the wisdom of PhD programs that assume a default of a “tenure-track Assistant Professor” outcome for their students.

Keywords: economics PhD, job market, tenure-track, non-tenure-track

JEL Codes: A11, J44, J21, Y10

Turning conflict into understanding: Ethics in economics

Steven Suranovic, George Washington University

Premieres: 4pmBST/11amEDT


In the public discussion about economic issues, moderate voices are being crowded out by polarized rhetoric seeking to discredit the opposing side. The merits of capitalism, typically promoted by the economics discipline, has been increasingly criticized and even condemned. Young students may gravitate to destabilizing radical ideas on either side of the ideological spectrum if economics teaching cannot provide a convincing moderate alternative.

Modern economics courses continue to be presented in the spirit of Paul Samuelson’s revolutionary principles textbook that emphasized the scientific approach to economics issues. While this approach has considerable merit, it deemphasized the moral, or ethical features, of human behavior, treating economic agents as cold, calculating, utility and profit maximizers. One solution is to throw away traditional neoclassical theories in favor of new models. This is the approach taken by the Core project in Great Britain. An alternative is to continue teaching the traditional models but to reintroduce the missing features, such as ethics, which can then lead to a completely new understanding.

The approach proposed here demonstrates how ethical behavior, such as the respect for property and a constraint on deception (among others), is actually an implicit assumption contained within the traditional economics model which is necessary to achieve economic efficiency. In contrast, when agents act unethically, it can readily be shown to contribute to economic injustices and rising inequality. Traditional economics models work fine if they are not taken too literally and when normative aspects of human behavior are considered and included.

In a survey of over 230 GW students exposed to this new approach, 87% agreed that self-interest must be constrained by ethical behavior to assure good economic outcomes while 88% of students agreed that the course design helped them to better understand the opinions of other people that they disagreed with.

Use #TeachECONference2021 on social media!

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