It is clear that Harvard's teaching philosophy is participant-centered learning, not solely the case method. Yesterday we did a fantastic negotiation exercise based on "Hamilton Real Estate". I'm not convinced I can utilise this in my econ courses, but the way I try to teach basic micro is to show that supply curves are inverted demand curves. I want to get away from the traditional view that markets are where "subjective" value comes up against the reality of objective costs. Where Buchanan provides the theory, my teaching plan stems from Alchian & Allen (I believe) who used the example of two consumers with an endowment of eggs. The fact that they had different marginal valuations shows the potential gains from trade, and the "market equilbrium" was shown by inverting consumer B's demand curve.
I've scrapped this due to time constraints (and teach the subjectivity of costs in other ways), but feel that it's an important point to get across. The good thing about a negotiation exercise is that it shows the same thing - the buyer and seller are comparing marginal valuations of an asset. It also provides a perfect way to approach notions of asymmetric information (and their ubiquity). It's a great exercise, that revealed a lot of self-knowledge (although I already knew what type of negotiator I'd be - establish a minimum price and then be content to exceed it. I'm not a dealmaker!)
But I wanted to add a couple of points from my class notes about the merits of exercises as one form of participant-centred learning:
- Gives you chance to practice what you've been discussing
- Generates a large number of "cases" - there are multiple experiences that the instructor can draw upon
- High level of involvement - the class can't help but be fully involved in the issue at hand
- It makes it impossible for students to leave the class kidding themselves that if *they* were in that position they'd have been perfect. Their self-image is bound to take a hit as they are forced to reflect on mistakes (as an aside this key learning objective of "humility" is indeed part of the HBS course)
- The beauty of cases - their ambiguity - can also be a downside if there are critical factors that you want to explore in depth.
As I believe Vernon Smith used to like to say, "Tell me, I’ll forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand