Everyday Macroeconomics: An Indicator Assessment Project

Author

Madhavi Venkatesan, Ph.D.

Department of Economics

Bridgewater State University

Citation

Venkatesan, M. (2015). Everyday Macroeconomics: An Indicator Assessment Project. Bridgewater State University.

The Everyday Macroeconomics: An Indicator Assessment is a group project that is incorporated within the instruction of Principles of Macroeconomics. The project is a significant component of establishing access, interest, and understanding of the use-value of economics in everyday life and offers a creative student-led synthesis of the objective of the course: be able to understand macroeconomic indicators and how these metrics relate to monetary and fiscal policy decisions as well as the interconnection between indicators, policy and business cycles.

Macroeconomic indicators that are quoted routinely in the media include: unemployment/non-farm payrolls, retail sales, consumer price index, producer price index, consumer confidence, gross domestic product and stock market movements. Each of these indicators provides one variable in the overall assessment of an economy’s well being. For individuals who understand the implications of movements in these indicators and know where to source information from the primary governmental or research think tank source, there is both an empowerment of being able to validate reported information and a stabilization related to conscious reaction rather than irrational exuberance.

Project Implementation and Assessment

The project group is self-selected and the instructor is notified in-class during the midterm review of the project (students are initially made aware of the project during the first class meeting and review of syllabus, which includes the detailed project assignment and rubrics—see file “Rubrics”). The indicator is chosen from a list, which is distributed a week after group selection is finalized to give ample time for group discussion and decision making prior to the indicator assignment day. There is no opportunity for duplication of an indicator assignment and assignments are allocated during class.

Presentations are expected to be 15 minutes to a maximum of 20 minutes in length and additional time is allotted for student audience engagement through a project engagement exercise and question and answer.All written work, including presentation slides are expected to follow APA style and references both used and cited are to be provided. The project counts for 15% of an individual student’s overall course grade with 50% determined by instructor evaluation; 40% by peer evaluation; and 10% by group member evaluation.

Background and Context

Principles of Macroeconomics

Principles of Macroeconomics is one of a two-part introductory economics requirement that together satisfy core course requirements for graduation at Bridgewater State University. Given this parameter, the course is typically comprised of non-majors at the freshman and sophomore level for whom this class along with its complement, Principles of Microeconomics may constitute the only exposure to economics in their academic life. From my perspective, the understanding of basic economics is arguably essential for students as the discipline impacts every aspect of individual, municipal, and business life. Further, the potential for sustainable rational agent decision-making is dependent on the ability to employ economic assessment and decision-making tools. To achieve the desired outcome, promotion of student engagement through accessible course curriculum is required. The Everyday Macroeconomics: An Indicator Assessment is a significant component of establishing access, interest, and understanding of the use-value of economics in everyday life and offers a creative student-led synthesis of the objective of the course: be able to understand macroeconomic indicators and how these metrics relate to monetary and fiscal policy decisions as well as the interconnection between indicators, policy and business cycles.

Macroeconomic indicators that are quoted routinely in the media include: unemployment/non-farm payrolls, retail sales, consumer price index, producer price index, consumer confidence, gross domestic product and stock market movements. Each of these indicators provides one variable in the overall assessment of an economy’s well being. For individuals who understand the implications of movements in these indicators and know where to source information from the primary governmental or research think tank source, there is both an empowerment of being able to validate reported information and a stabilization related to conscious reaction rather than irrational exuberance. For example, understanding that the unemployment rate is based on a survey and can be disaggregated by age, job classification, region can assist an individual at geographically targeting employment; similarly understanding the consumer price index, the indicator of inflation, is based on a fixed basket of goods can assist a person in understanding how reported inflation can have an upward bias (typically as prices increase substitutes are found, but if the consumer price index holds quantities constant, not allowing for substitution, inflation may appear to be higher than found as a result of actual behavior).

The typical class size for a section of Principles of Macroeconomics is 35; as a result, the number of students per group is limited to a maximum of five. The project represents a synthesis of the learning outcomes in the course and as a result is presented in the final class meeting(s) period for the term/semester.

Course learning outcomes

As part of the instructor’s contract with students, at the conclusion of this course, students will be able to understand macroeconomic indicators and how these metrics relate to monetary and fiscal policy decisions as well as the interconnection between indicators, policy and business cycles.

Additionally,

  • The course will provide a foundation for further study in economics, as well as, an understanding of behavioral finance and public policy as they relate to the discipline of economics.
  • The course will provide students with an ability to evaluate the significance of assumptions of behavior and how these assumptions are self-promoting and may be augmented to further sustainable outcomes.

Project alignment to course learning outcomes

The Everyday Macroeconomics: An Indicator Assessment Project reinforces the course-learning outcome specified as be able to understand macroeconomic indicators and how these metrics relate to monetary and fiscal policy decisions as well as the interconnection between indicators, policy and business cycles.

Degree Qualifications Profile: Alignment to Applied and Collaborative Learning

While the Everyday Macroeconomics: An Indicator Assessment Project satisfies three DQP proficiencies including specialized knowledge and use of information resources, applied and collaborative learning matches best to the student learning outcomes for the project (see Table) below. Unlike the DQP at the associate level, the Everyday Macroeconomics: An Indicator Assessment Project links to the bachelor’s level with the inclusion of a student presentation.

Table: DQP Alignment Comparison to the ECON 102 Macroeconomic Indicator Project

DQP Applied and Collaborative Learning Proficiencies Macroeconomic Indicator Project Outcomes
Associate Level: Describes in writing at least one case in which knowledge and skills acquired in academic settings may be applied to a field-based challenge, and evaluates the learning gained from the application. Students choose a single macroeconomic indicator and prepare both a written and group presentation related to their selected indicator.
Associate Level: Analyzes at least one significant concept or method in the field of study in light of leaning outside the classroom. Students explain the indicator with respect to data assembly and calculations, application and use; value in conjunction with other indicators (stating other indicators) in determining the directional trajectory of the economy; and provide a tangible application of the use value of the indicator.
Associate Level: Locates, gathers and organizes evidence regarding a question in a field-based venue beyond formal academic study and offers alternative approaches to answering it. As part of the presentation component, students locate, evaluate and cite multiple information resources as part of their background research on their economic indicator.  Resources include the original government or think-tank sources as well as academic and most importantly news and business articles that provide examples of how the indicators are used in real world application.
Associate Level: Demonstrates the exercise of any practical skill crucial to the application of expertise. Students define and explain macroeconomics using the tools and specialized terms in the discipline to frame and evaluate a familiar but complex problem, economic growth, in a project that culminates in the development of group presentation. The information generated through this process is assembled and ultimately, used within the framework of their group presentation.
 Bachelor’s Level: Prepares and presents a project, paper, exhibit, performance or other appropriate demonstration linking knowledge or skills acquired in work, community or research activities with knowledge acquired in one or more fields of study, explains how those elements are structured, and employs appropriate citations to demonstrate the relationship of the product to literature in the field. Students are expected to collaborate with others in their group in developing an approach to evaluating the strength and weakness of a specific economic indicator including its use and misuse by business media and it relevance to the overall economic profile of the country.

 

Project Outcomes

Given that the majority of students enrolled in Principles of Macroeconomics have yet to declare a major and that the course is the prerequisite for additional courses for any students wishing to pursue an economics major, there is no differentiation between students as it relates to major classification. The primary differentiator is the variation in pre-existing level of engagement in the curriculum. Therefore, establishing homogeneous baseline student engagement is necessary for successful course deployment. This characteristic is dependent on fostering a learning environment where the curriculum is accessible. Everyday Macroeconomics: An Indicator Assessment Project is one of several methods employed to promote this end.

The project has been successful with respect to increasing student understanding of the application of economics in daily life. Based on project quality, students have developed research skills and analytical skills as these relate to finding the original source and uses of the indicator and interpretation of the methodology and calculation of the indicator. Additionally, many student groups implemented multimedia elements, including music and embedded video in their presentation, were active in developing games with prizes to ensure the attention and interest of their classmates, and integrated sustainability elements within their presentations. Specific to the latter, one Retail Sales Indicator Group assessed the built in obsolescence of fashion as a means to maintain sales growth and evaluated the externalized cost of clothing disposal on market prices and consumers’ incentivization to purchase, pointing out the impact to the environment due to the use of synthetic materials used in clothing.

Presentations have been engaging and have met and exceeded the requirements for “good” categorization of communication and presentation skills as delineated in the project rubric. Of significant importance, presentations have also provided students with the opportunity to engage in the challenge of collaborative work. This has been with mixed results as in some groups not all students were found to be active contributors and group self-policing became a tangible outcome of the process. However, for the majority of groups the experience of working peer-to-peer was positive.

Project outcomes have yielded varying results. A small portion of the variation can be attributable to the need for greater direction coupled with little inclination to request instructor assistance. Groups struggling with the project appear to have been a victim of self-selection bias, as these groups tended to be comprised of students all exhibiting similar weakness in the mastery of the overall curriculum. A larger portion of the variation is related to temporal comparison. The first time the project was introduced, the students had no template or examples to use and creativity was significant. It was in the initial project deployment that video, animation, and music was embedded to engage the class. In the subsequent classes that were assigned the project, the presentations made by the first class were provided for example. Having the example appeared to limit student creativity rather than increase it. Students appeared to use the sample presentations to define the boundary of instructor expectations. Presently, students are shown the sample presentations in class to provide them with an example but the samples are not circulated electronically, reducing their use as a template.

Everyday Macroeconomics: An Indicator Assessment Project represents a synthesis of the learnings in the Principles of Macroeconomics course. The project provides a tangible use value of economics that is readily available in media (i.e., television, news, and magazines). Macroeconomic indicators are conveyed on a daily basis in the news. Additionally, the project is an example of the general use value of education. Students who are not engaged cannot reap the benefits of the project, and therefore articulation of the project assignment in a manner that promotes interest is requisite for success.

Teaching Note

The instructor will provide the class with a listing of economic indicators and ask the class to self-select into groups of 4 to 5 students. The group members and the economic indicator are both selected by midterm, at which point students have already established familiarity with macroeconomic indicators and have had the opportunity to establish a working relationship with one another. The latter component is facilitated throughout the semester via the inclusion of a mixed teaching and learning style that incorporates flipped classroom and daily classroom discussion of “real world” application of macroeconomics. Additionally, students are encouraged at the initial class meeting and “ice breaker” to establish relationships for homework and study facilitation. If needed the instructor will intervene to establish the groups.

Groups will be allowed to prioritize the list of top three indicators and the instructor will choose the indicator to be assigned to each group during a class meeting. The method of allocation is up to the discretion of the instructor, but from experience a listing of the top three indicators of choice, as suggested, will assist in allocating an indicator desirable (defined as one of the three listed) to a group. Indicators that can be assigned can include but are not limited to: unemployment/non-farm payrolls, retail sales, consumer price index, producer price index, consumer confidence, gross domestic product, the stock market, ISM indices, GDP, and housing starts. All indicators and data are available in the public domain and via original source.

The project has stated milestones. It is recommended that each group submit a summary of work in progress and attainment of milestone goals on the date associated with the milestone’s completion. The summary can be forwarded via email with a standard email subject nomenclature: Group Number_Date_Milestone # and this mode of communication is embedded in the student assignment as provided below. The reporting on milestones will assist in maintaining the group overall and individual member deliverables and allow for the instructor to intervene should a particular group or individual not be meeting project milestone expectations. Milestones as stated have suggested week associations related to project progress.

Sample Presentations

Specific to the evaluation of sample presentations provided as supplementary material in this project description, both of these presentations received an “Excellent” across all rubric categories. For evaluation criteria see file— “Rubrics.” Students earning grades from “C” to “A” on exams developed these presentations. From this perspective, the project provided a creative outlet to make the curriculum accessible to students who for a variety of reasons may not have been able to relay information absorbed in a standard exam format.


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