Wiki Research Project Helps Students Navigate Complex Economic Issues

by Laura Maginley

At one time coined “the dismal science,” economics is, in reality, a social science that teaches citizens to truly understand how resources are produced, allocated and consumed.  Students in Instructor Jill Beccaris-Pescatore’s Microeconomics  (ECO122) course are required to complete an intense research based project that investigates a topic relating to microeconomics and report their findings on a wiki webpage.

This past spring, one student group – comprised of Hannah M. Esmonde, Jenna M. Williams, Xi Jin, John Steward, Tony Dragani and Devante Issacs – turned their topic “green” by investigating how the economic growth of a country is related to its environmental practices. Working off of a thesis statement, students are required to have a designated number of videos, podcasts and must maintain a credible list of scholarly sources to receive credit for this heavily weighed project.

Their project, entitled “Is Economic Growth Bad for the Environment?” has a permanent home at https://sites.google.com/site/economicgrowththeenviornment/ for the entire world to see.  The navigation bar addresses the elements within the topic, such as the pros and cons of economic growth and its affect on the environment, followed by a conclusion.

As explained on the website, it can be difficult to have a large green impact on the “micro,” or individual, level.  The trick is to have larger corporations make a high quality and long lasting impact on the environment.  There is, however, an increasing demand for green initiatives in the business world due to overall public opinion.

According to the students’ research, “green” initiatives begin to kick in and are implemented once a country has reached a peaked income (GDP) – barring lower income countries from instituting sustainability strategies.  The students conclude that economic growth is neither good nor bad for the environment, because environmental degradation is inevitable.  However, the wealth and technology produced as an outcome of economic growth can help to protect and preserve in the future. In other words, as countries increase economic growth, they have additional income to direct toward environmental protection.

While there are still traditional elements to Beccaris-Pescatore’s Microeconomics course, such as tests, online homework and a final presentation, the explorative project allows students to apply what they have learned in previous courses to economic theory.

“I do check in with the students during class meeting times and address any concerns, but I do want to let the project develop and do not want to interfere with the findings,” said Beccaris-Pescatore. “This project is about completing an analysis of the topic, while combining new research with previous knowledge.  All of this is done by working with a group of students with diverse backgrounds and learning styles.”

This course is cross-curricular in nature, building on students’ existing knowledge of research techniques, computer science and overall team work.

When asked what every-day citizens can do to improve the Environmental Performance Index score of the United States, Beccaris-Pescatore suggests that education and cooperation are key.

“Small steps and cooperation from local, state and federal government is important in setting a good example,” she said, “The commitment to sustainability at the College provides a great foundation for better decision making in the area of the environment.”

Many of the spring ECO 122 students were previously enrolled in Beccaris-Pescatore’s Macroeconomics (ECO121) course, which is a prerequisite for Microeconomics. Macroeconomics explores big picture ideas like unemployment, inflation, and economic growth, and incorporates a similar research based project.  Additionally, Beccaris-Pescatore is teaching a new course this fall, entitled Introduction to Environmental Economics (ECO117), which is open to all majors.

For more information, email Jill Beccaris-Pescatore at jbeccari@mc3.edu.

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