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Monday, October 19, 2009

Choose-Your-Own Assignment

I'm trying something new this semester (again). Throughout the semester, I am giving my students 'optional' assignments - optional in the sense that they don't have to do every single one but they do have to do two over the course of the semester. I'm calling them 'Choose-Your-Own Assignments' or CYOs. I have no idea if my students get the reference or not (I'm a little bit afraid to ask) but I like it. Anyway, each assignment is a short essay, usually asking students to come up with an example that is relevant to something we are discussing in class. For example, the first one was
"Describe a situation where you or someone else said, “I have no choice.” Explain why you felt you had no choice. Then identify all the possible alternatives – what else could you have done? These do not have to be alternatives that you would actually have ever chosen but please be as complete as possible."
Now that we're into demand, the most recent one was
"The recession has created lots of opportunities to see which goods are normal and which are inferior. Find evidence (e.g., a newspaper article) of one normal and one inferior good (these can include specific products or services, stores or other markets). For each, explain how you know the good is normal or inferior and describe your source of evidence. If your evidence is from a newspaper article or other online source, provide the links. If your evidence is from some other source, provide the full citation information. You should also provide your own reaction and analysis – are you surprised that these goods are normal/inferior? Would YOU be more/less likely to buy these goods if your income increased/decreased?"
Because we spend the first couple weeks on just the core micro principles, which are mostly intuitive (e.g., people think at the margin, people respond to incentives, etc.), a lot more students choose to submit responses for the first few CYOs than I anticipated and I'm now way behind on grading. But I think these assignments at least are getting students to think like economists more than just multiple-choice or graphing questions.

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