Teaching with Internet-based Texts: a “Great Books”
for presentation at the Lilly-South Conference,
Georgia, February 11-13, 2000
Carolina University &
University of New York at Binghamton
are rarely exposed to the best offered by the disciplines represented in
undergraduate curricula.Use of
primary texts, either as supplements to a conventional course textbook,
or as the only assigned readings, can address this problem.Students
build critical skills, gain higher levels of reading comprehension, and
deeper understanding of fundamental issues in the discipline.
cursory examination of undergraduate texts in many disciplines reveals
a narrow, technical focus.Consequently
these courses are limited in the extent they can contribute to maturing
our students into educated people.
great emphasis has been placed on incorporating the use of information
technology into the undergraduate curriculum.Popular
techniques include websites and computer software, which are valuable pedagogical
aids in their own right.Though use
of technology promotes technical literacy, it often does little or nothing
to stimulate students' critical faculties.
a "great books" approach addresses this shortcoming, and contributes to
students' liberal education.The
essence of this approach is to discuss reading assignments from primary
texts provided on the internet.Students
clearly benefit from reading seminal authors of the discipline in a way
reading any contemporary textbook cannot approach.All
these public domain texts are available free-of-charge as teaching resource
on the web, from various sources.Some
are discipline-specific while others are more general.
“Great Books” Approach
goal of college education should be to facilitate the emergence of confident
adults with a broad general experience. One way to inject the "big-idea"
humane studies focus back into undergraduate teaching is to assign supplemental
readings for class discussion.Supplemental
readings from primary texts enrich student intellectual development and
also raise the level of discussion of theoretical issues addressed by contemporary
Gift and Krislov (1991) suggest
the following criteria for identifying a classic:
must have advanced the methodology of the discipline and must have used
this advance to produce new insights.
must incorporate, either by synthesis or antithesis, previous understanding
of its topics.
must be used as source material on discipline-specific issues by scholars
outside the discipline.
must be source material for scholars within or without the discipline on
broad questions of methodology, philosophy, and policy.
be evidence the book has influenced research agenda outside the discipline.
of the work must be cross-cultural and timeless, and it must invite rereading.
Gift and Krislov conclude that
various works in economics meet these criteria, particularly Adam Smith’s
of Nations, Thomas Malthus’s Essay on Population, Karl Marx’s
Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class, and Alfred Marshall’s
of Economics.Using the same
criteria, the present author would add Carl Menger’s Principles of Economics,
and Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action.
Nevertheless, Gift and Krislov’s
six criteria are too narrow in that they clearly only apply to scientific
or technical works, but not to fiction, poetry, and other works valued
for their literary qualities and broader intellectual appeal.
Quality of literary exposition
and clarity of expression should be considered in selecting readings.Smith
and Menger have outstanding English writing styles.Turgot,
J.S. Mill, Marx, and Veblen are particularly difficult authors.In
the case of Turgot and Marx, this criticism is directed at their English
translators.Students may benefit
from grappling with high language, but also need role models.Instructors
might ask “who would I like my students to emulate in their writing?”
Kish-Goodling (1998) provides an
outstanding and very thorough discussion of applications of monetary economics
presented in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.Aristophanes’s
Frogs gives the earliest statement of Gresham’s law, and can be used
to illustrate that principle.L.
Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an allegory on the politics
of bimetallism (Rockoff 1990).
Watts and Smith (1989) provide
an excellent survey of drama and fiction works useful for teaching economics,
including Dickens, Dos Passos, Huxley, Steinbeck, and Wilder.O’Donnell
(1989) discusses fiction written with the explicit intention of illustrating
economic principles, though these novels typically do not qualify as great
there may be some exceptions, the vast majority of acknowledged “great
books” are authored by dead white males.A
further issue of cultural bias is raised by the fact that these authors
wrote in a context not generally conducive to attitudes we would recognize
today as enlightened.Although
some writers come across as fairly enlightened by today’s standards, others
do not, and perhaps should be avoided for precisely that reason.
the more enlightened writers may display glaring instances of insensitivity.For
example, in the nineteenth Africans were routinely described as savages
by educated Europeans and European-Americans.Many
primary texts display poor understanding of geography, even given the state
of the art at the time.What the
writer has to offer your students should be weighed against the liabilities.
and insensitivities should be pointed out by the instructor and discussed
in class.It can be used as a gage
of civilization that educated people do not believe these things anymore.
further solution is to include readings by more contemporary authors like
Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, or Toni Morrison.Unfortunately,
these authors’ works are not in the public domain.A
search for appropriate author websites turned up several with excellent
presentations of the author’s works, including complete lyric poems, passages
from novels, Nobel prize addresses, interviews, and critical and interpretive
Design Issues: Setting
up a Reading List
models of implementation will be presented to serve as a basis for discussion.Model
A consists of five phases: selection, dissemination, discussion, evaluation,
and feedback.Model B adds an additional
initial phase, requirement specification, but is otherwise identical.Model
A implementation is easier and less time-consuming for web novices to set
up and apply.
instructors select readings from the set of texts they know to be readily
accessible and available, e.g., through the McMaster University Archive
of the History of Economic Thought website.A
helpful rule of thumb is to plan on one reading per week if the course
is built around the primary text readings, and one every two weeks or longer
if the primary texts are assigned to supplement a standard textbook.
The difference between
these two models of implementation is in what comes first:selection
of the readings, as in model A, which is more appropriate for new adopters,
or course needs, as in model B, which is most easily realized once the
instructor has become accustomed to what can be accomplished with this
Anyone with a webbrowser can
set up a supplemental reading list in an afternoon. As a first step,
it may be helpful to explore what is available, but for economics courses,
most readings are available through the McMaster University website. Once
course contact time is divided, a topic area is selected for each reading.When
primary texts are used to supplement a course textbook, topic areas can
be chosen to correspond to chapter coverage in the course textbook.Then
a primary source reading is chosen for each topic.
Once the instructor has selected
readings, they need to be disseminated to the class, which can be done
in low-tech mode in a handout with each web address listed, or in high-tech
mode on a course website with hyperlinks to each reading.Some
lecture time (or recitation time, if available) must be set aside for discussion
of the readings.Particular emphasis
must be placed on relating the content of the readings to the standard
content in the primary textbook.
approach is essentially passive and conservative.Facilitating
access to on-line texts, in and of itself, goes only a short way toward
transforming faculty from transmitters of information to guides and mentors,
(Wolfe et al, 1998, p. 31,) but it is a start.Instructors
can exercise discretion about how far and how fast to embrace additional
applications of technology to facilitate active learning.
in-class discussion of primary texts enlivens and complements discussion.Instructors
should mention the relevance of the primary text assignments whenever they
appear relevant to the standard course coverage.Feel
free to mention how previous readings are relevant, or how future readings
will be relevant, to the present discussion.If
the instructor prefers, classroom discussion can be supplemented or replaced
with on-line bulletin boards.
of primary texts provides a medium to develop student vocabulary.Usually
the level of language used in primary texts is high and often archaic.Students
benefit from learning unfamiliar words, and encountering obsolete technical
terms offers the instructor the opportunity of pointing out more modern
equivalents, and perhaps explaining why and how obsolete expressions were
sometimes seminal works of the discipline present simpler theoretical constructs
than today’s accepted knowledge.Simpler,
more primitive models, often serve as an excellent introduction to the
more complicated state-of-the-art.The
insights gained from discussing and analyzing the evolution of concepts
cannot be overstated.No matter how
well one might appreciate ideas in the context of contemporary consensus,
ideas cannot be fully understood outside their historical context.
phase consists of including specific references to the primary text assignments
in graded diagnostic instruments, e.g., multiple-choice questions, essay
questions, and/or term papers.In
the last phase, student feedback should be elicited, perhaps in the form
of a questionnaire.Students can
be asked their favorite and least favorite readings.
implementation, it is only necessary to provide a paper handout with the
assignments and website addresses printed out on paper.A
logical next step is to provide the handout as a page linked to the instructor's
course website or on-line syllabus.The
instructor can also provide hyperlinks on an online assignments page, for
ease of use by students.Here is
an example provided by the author for his Principles of Microeconomics
and Macroeconomics classes: [http://www3.wcu.edu/~mulligan/supreads.html].
to be red-flagged is the importance of proofreading web addresses.A
typographical error in a web address renders it useless, and such errors
are very difficult to diagnose and correct.The
McMaster University website addresses all include the ambiguous extension
"/3113/, " which can be interpreted as containing ones or lower-case Ls
- the threes suggest a number, but the figures are in-fact Ls.
This difficulty is alleviated if
the instructor adopts a higher-tech implementation of an assignments website
with hyperlinks.The instructor will
know to adjust the linked addresses until they work, and can minimize address
ambiguities by using the cut-and-paste utility to copy the addresses directly
from your webbrowser.
must ensure time is available for intelligent and thorough discussion of
supplemental readings.This should
not be an issue if the primary texts are the only reading assignment, because
then the course discussion is built around the readings.Students
will probably feel cheated if confronted with an impressive set of difficult
reading assignments, completion of which detracts from other activities,
if the readings are not discussed in class.
will likewise feel cheated if course diagnostic instruments do not include
some references to the primary texts.Multiple-choice
questions about the readings, essay questions referring to the readings,
or term papers, are alternative solutions to this problem.Students
should be encouraged to print out a copy of each assigned reading to mark
up, bring to class, study from, etc.Reading
from a printed copy also minimizes eyestrain.
texts lend themselves well to writing assignments which can center around
technical problems of the discipline addressed in the readings.Because
primary texts are by definition, great literature addressing important
problems, they can also be addressed through literary analyses.Torres
(1995) gives a useful framework for this approach, discussing many practical
to non-fiction, Torres’s approach requires students to 1. demonstrate the
distinction between understanding and interpretation of concepts presented
in the primary text, e.g., by posing and answer a compelling question raised
in a text, 2. construct a bibliography of works by the primary text author,
related primary texts, and scholarship, including criticism, relating to
the work studied, 3. identifying and analyzing their emotional response
to the text or passage, 4. writing a passage in discipline, perhaps mimicking
the author’s vocabulary and writing style, 5. demonstrating mastery of
the language of the discipline in formulating a thesis, 6. involving each
other in communal evaluation workshops.
(1996) observes that traditional techniques for teaching economics fail
to facilitate higher-order analytical skills.She
recommends the solution strategy of integrating writing and computers into
classroom teaching and assignments, and provides a helpful discussion of
text-based readings can be used as supplemental assignments.Since
many primary texts are available free-of-charge on the internet, instructors
have a resource which allows them to chose from a wide variety of specifically
are able, in effect, to edit their own book of readings or supplemental
readings, drawn from the classics of economics or other literary sources.You
get to assign from a set of readings you edited, which are provided at
no cost to your students.The cost
of a set of readings would be high, and published selections do not necessarily
meet instructor requirements.If
students had to buy a copy of each book assigned, the cost might be prohibitive,
and might influence instructors to economize on sources.
implementation of primary text assignments serves two goals: broadening
the perspective of undergraduate education, and implementing technology
in the classroom.The exposure
to technology is important but perhaps superficial and transient, as technology
will change at an ever-increasing rate.Exposure
to great ideas, great and original minds, through the great books exposes
students to something not subject to obsolescence.
Computer technology becomes
a vehicle for stimulating students’ critical faculties.Although
students clearly benefit from technological implementation of pedagogic
methods, the real benefit is in the depth and breadth of scholarly experience
contained in the great books.
Gift, Richard E., & Krislov, Joseph. (1991).
Are there classics in economics? Journal of Economic Education, 22(1),
Donna M. (1988). Using the Merchant of Venice in teaching monetary
economics. Journal of Economic Education, 29(4), 330-339.
Linda M. (1996). A classroom strategy for teaching economics in a multidisciplinary
context. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 7(1), 57-69.
Margaret G. (1989). A historical note on the use of fiction to teach principles
of economics. Journal of Economic Education, 20(3), 314-320.
Rockoff. (1990). The Wizard of Oz as a Monetary Allegory. Journal
of Political Economy, 98(4), 739-761.
Evelyn M. (1995). Analytical literacy: Making scholars out of students.
on Excellence in College Teaching, 6(2), 17-29.
Michael, & Smith, Robert F. (1989). Economics in literature and drama.
of Economic Education, 20(3), 291-307.
C.R., Crider, C., Mayer, L., McBride, M., Sherman, R., & Vogel, R.
(1998). Toward a Miami University model for Internet-intensive higher education.
on Excellence in College Teaching, 9(1), 29-51.
Primary Texts and the Great Books:
Concordances of Great Books: http://www.concordance.com/
McMaster University Archive of Economic Thought:
Rice University Galileo Project: http://es.rice.edu/ES/humsoc/Galileo/
Project Gutenberg: http://www.promo.net/pg/
University of California at Berkeley Alex: http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/alex/
Yale University Primary Legal Texts: http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/avalon.htm
WCU Writing Center: http://www.wcu.edu/WritingCenter/
Sweet Briar College Academic Resource Center Writing
Clarkson University Writing Center: http://www.clarkson.edu/~wcenter/
Maya Angelou: http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu./%7Emmaynard/Maya/maya5.html
[University of Texas]
Isak Dineson (Karen Blixen): http://www.dis.dk/kultur/karenb/baggrund.e.html
David Linsay: http://www.montreat.edu/dking/lewis/AshleyEcklerLewispaper.htm
Toni Morrison: http://beloved.hampshire.edu/tm.shtml
[University of Texas]
Sigrid Undset: http://odin.dep.no/ud/nornytt/uda-443.html
Alice Walker: http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/purple.html
[College of Staten Island]
WESTERN CAROLINA UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF BUSINESS
DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMICS, FINANCE, & INTERNATIONAL
ECON 231 Micro Readings
ECON 232 Macro Readings
Smith (1723-1790), Wealth of Nations (1776),
1, Chapters 1, 2, and 3
Turgot (1727-1781), Reflections on the Formation of Wealth
(1766, English edition 1793), Sections 1-50
Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Principles of Political Economy (1848,
seventh ed. 1871), Book 3, Chapter 2
Turgot (1727-1781), Reflections on the Formation of Wealth (1766,
English edition 1793), Sections 51-101
Veblen (1857-1929), Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Chapter
4, "Conspicuous Consumption"
Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Principles of Political Economy
(1848, seventh ed. 1871), Book 1, Chapter 7
Veblen (1857-1929), "The Limits of Marginal Utility" (1909)
Marx (1818-1883), Capital (1867), Book 1, Chapter 25, Section
Section 3 starts on approximately p. 10 of 73.]
Toynbee (1852-1883), Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in England
Adam Smith (1723-1790), Wealth of Nations (1776), Book 1,
Carl Menger (1841-1921), "On the Origin of Money" (1892)
Marx (1818-1883), Capital (1867), Book 1, Chapter 16
Hume (1711-1776), "Of the Balance of Trade" (1777)
Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Principles of Political Economy
(1848, seventh ed. 1871), Book 2, Chapter 14
"A Proposal to Pay off the Debt of the Nation" (1732), and  "On Lowering
the Coins" (1736)
Constitutions of Clarendon (1164)
"Boehm-Bawerk's (1851-1914) Definition of Capital and the Source of Wages"
"Review of John Maynard Keynes' (1883-1946) The Economic Consequences
of the Peace (1919)" (1920)
= "3LL3" in the McMaster University website addresses.
Smith, Wealth of Nations is also available at http://www.bibliomania.com/NonFiction/Smith/Wealth/index.html
complete the assigned readings prior to the week listed.