The most important thing a student can gain from an economics class is the ability to think like an economist: to be able to look at some event in the world and know how to interpret it using economic theory. This is especially important in a field like macroeconomics, which has been recently criticized not only by outsiders, but also by macroeconomic luminaries like Paul Romer and Narayana Kocherlakota for being overly preoccupied with clever puzzles that have dubious real-world relevance. More than familiarity with a few (or even a great many) models, it requires a strong economic intuition for knowing which model to apply to a given situation and why it’s appropriate.
I teach my classes with this principle in mind. The goal of the class is not mastery of a set of techniques, except so far as it’s necessary to advance the primary goal: understanding of the economic processes at work. Technique, after all, is only useful once you have interesting questions to pursue. It’s the ability of economics to render the world intelligible and to identify interesting questions that lights the fire in students’ minds. This is the fire that I aim to ignite: when all of a sudden that confusing current event makes sense.
More concretely, because it’s easy to feel like one understands without in fact doing so, I write my homework assignments, tests, and research assignments with conceptual questions that probe the student’s understanding of the issue at hand. This format allows me to identify not only the students who need more help, but also the star students who can be challenged further. The homeworks and the tests, in fact, are almost identical in format, which gives students a great deal of low-pressure practice at the kinds of questions they’ll face on the tests, and the kind of knowledge I expect them to gain from the class.
Finally, recognizing that competent students will sometimes be better at one type of assignment than another, I give a variety of types of assignments, some of which are optional. A student who is not so good at tests, for example, can bring up his grade by making a presentation on one of the readings. In addition, though I do offer guidance on the topic, an open-ended research paper gives students the opportunity to direct their attention more fully to whatever aspect of the world got them interested in economics in the first place.
I really liked how the homework assignments tested us on whether or not we knew the underlying economic theory. The homework allowed me to pinpoint how I was doing in the class & whether or not I understood the material.
Mr. Harwick was an incredible professor. The course was one of the best courses that I have taken.
I thought the lectures were interesting and I particularly enjoyed how relevant they were to what was taking place in the economy at times. That made lectures really relatable. The homework was also great at solidifying understanding of topics, and very relevant to what was taking place in class.
Professor Harwick is one of the nicest professors I have had at GMU. The class presentations were clear and explained well. The assigned homeworks were extremely helpful for reinforcing what was taught in class. . . . The research paper assignment was one of my favorite aspects of this class which helped apply the concepts learned in class to real world economic situations.