Multimedia technology for the next generation.

Author:Ferrarini, Tawni Hunt
  1. Introduction

    Economics has a generally well-deserved reputation for poor instruction, and this reputation has seeped into popular culture. It was immortalized in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), for example. In the movie, Ben Stein plays a high school economics teacher who famously puts his class to sleep while droning on about macroeconomics. Stein's character ends up pleading for student input, repeatedly uttering, "Anyone?" to try to get a response.

    The disconnect between the way economists model decision making and the way the world actually works limits how effective traditional approaches to lecturing are at reaching students. More broadly, economists are seen as being painfully dry. This perception was reinforced in a 2009 television commercial for T-Mobile staring Catherine Zeta-Jones. (1) At the opening we see a group of economists in suits going door-to-door trying to sell new cellular coverage. The people hide from them, squirt them with garden hoses, and slam the door in their faces. Then, we see Zeta-Jones approach a door and ask the homeowner if he has time for a "mobile makeover." Startled by his good fortune, he responds, "I believe I do."

    We like to think of multimedia as the foundation for a classroom makeover. Students have low expectations when they take economics for the first time. Incorporating multimedia into the learning experience is one way to add value and also dispel the notion that economics is boring. Learning economics can be fun, exciting, and engaging, especially when instructors enter their students' preferred multimedia environments.

  2. The Multimedia Craze

    In a national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the amount of time today's youth spend with the technology is approximated. "Generation [M.sup.2]: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds" reveals that three out of four of surveyed 8- to 18-year-olds own MP3 players and almost seven out of ten of them have cell phones. Surprisingly, only three out of ten kids have computers in the home. Overall, they spend almost 7 1/2 hours a day of their recreational time (time outside of the classroom) with some form of technology. When multitasking is considered, students spend almost 11 hours with media content. This generation spends a meager 38 minutes daily with print materials, a historic low according to the Kaiser report.

    College students most likely bring many of their secondary habits with them into higher education classrooms, especially their survey and principles courses. So we can learn something from the Kaiser report: there appears to be a bottom-up demand for multimedia technology. Today's students, the [M.sup.2] generation of preteens and teens who enjoy 24/7 access to multimedia, freely choose to consume much of their leisure time interacting with some combination of multimedia technology. College instructors should take note and leverage these revealed preferences. If instructors provide interesting, meaningful, and engaging content, students using multimedia devices may be drawn into economics inside and outside of the classroom. In other words, instructors may plug into student fascination with the technology and, at the same time, help students learn the subject matter by simply employing the technology students "demand." The technology and technology-accessed content are readily available and can be supplied by economics instructors to students with relative ease and at historically low cost.

  3. Technology for the Face-to-Face Classroom

    Dirk Mateer is a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Arizona who is known for his use of pop culture in his Principles of Economics course. His website,, brings together media clips related to economics from film, television, and music. The site's purpose is to create a single resource that instructors can use to identify media elements relevant to their courses, and it provides a much richer user experience than related sites like The Economics of Seinfeld, TV for Economics, and Movies for Econ. With Mateer's site, users can now access a broad array of economics-related content online in one spot. The website is a portal that can be used to effectively show economics-related media during class or to assign the media to be viewed outside of class as homework.

    The site's searchable database allows the visitor to sort the media by topic, type, most viewed, most helpful, and most recent, or to simply enter a search term and bring up all matches. The primary advantages of presenting this information on the web are the ability to easily access a current media database and the ability to solicit suggestions from visitors.

    The use of multimedia to enhance teaching and learning complements traditional approaches to instruction. Effective instruction builds bridges between students' knowledge and the course's learning objectives. Using multimedia engages students, aids student retention of knowledge, sparks interest in the subject matter, and illustrates the relevance of many concepts. While historians continue to debate the origins of the term "dismal science," there is little doubt that Thomas Carlyle's antipathy toward the discipline of economics continues to...

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