THE TEACHING ECONOMIST - William A. McEachern                 

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Issue 9, Spring 1995

William A. McEachern, Editor

Grapevine

Economics on the Internet

As most everyone knows by now, the Internet links people via computer terminals, telephonelines, and wireless connections through a web of networks and shared software, allowing users inone area to reach other users anywhere in the "Net." Created originally by the Pentagon, the Internet is now subsidized by the National Science Foundation, which controls its core computernetwork. A big breakthrough in user friendliness came in 1993 with the creation ofthe World Wide Web, software that helped create order out of chaos. Millions of copies of theoriginal Web browser, Mosaic, have been distributed free over the Internet.

Despite increasing accessibility through some public libraries, computer bulletin boards, andsoftware packages, the primary users remain government officials, corporate researchers, andacademics. Although relatively few economists use the Internet, an incredible amount of economicinformation is available, including extensive U.S. data series from the Fed and the U.S. Bureau ofLabor Statistics, a bibliography of more than 35,000 working papers in economics, householdsurveys from 22 different countries, the AEA directory of members, Job Openings forEconomists, more than 70 mailing lists, abundant corporate financial data, Usenet newsgroups,and a list of economists who use Internet. There is even a new journal published entirelyon e-mail, the bimonthly Cyberchronicle of Political Economy (COPE). Most information is free. One source that is not free is the Electronic Bulletin Board at the U.S. Commerce Department, which charges an annual fee of $45 plus hourly rates ranging from $6 on weekends to $24 on weekday mornings.

Bill Goffe, an economist at the University of Southern Mississippi, has compiled a list of"Resources for Economists on the Internet." He updates the document every threemonths. The most recent version stretches 72 single-spaced pages.

Goffe's document can be found in several places including:

Goffe will send you a copy via email, although he would prefer you trythe other sources first. Contact Bill Goffe, Department of Economics and International Business,University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS 39406. Voice phone: (601) 266-4484;Fax: (601) 266-4920; e-mail: bgoffe@whale.st.usm.edu

There are dozens of books about the Internet. Some recommended by Goffeinclude: Harley Hahn and Rich Stout, The Internet Complete Reference,McGraw-Hill, 1994; Daniel P. Dern, The Internet Guide for New Users, McGraw-Hill, 1994: and Peter Kent,The Complete Idiot's Guide to Internet, Alpha Books, 1994. Curiously, I found only two references to the Internet on Microsoft's Bookshelf and not a single reference on Microsoft's Encarta'95.


Teaching Resources on Internet

Most Internet resources are aimed at research rather than teaching,although, of course,there is overlap since economic information can be used for both.The Economic History Server,for example, combines a bit of both, offering more than 40 syllabi from economic history coursesplus historical data series.

One source that focuses exclusively on undergraduate economics teaching is a discussion listcalled TCH-ECON. Established in the summer of 1993, TCH-ECON is thefruit of discussions at the EasternEconomic Association meetings. The list is run by Jim Barbour, an economist of ElonCollege in North Carolina. TCH-ECON is like a high-tech C.B. radio network. Topics range from datasources appropriate for undergraduates to the pros and cons of various textbooks and variousteaching approaches. Messages come in like any other e-mail. There are more than three hundredsubscribers, including some from Europe, Japan, Korea, and Australia. Traffic varies from one ortwo messages per day during vacations and exam time to as many as 30 a day if some topic heatsup. Average traffic is about a dozen messages a day.

Barbour thinks interacting in this way makes for better teaching if for no other reason than one isforced to think more about teaching. He likens the forum to a huge faculty lounge, whereeveryone gets a chance to speak. Whether people listen is another matter. The list offers theimmediate communication of teaching ideas. The price of this immediacy is that subscribers mustwade through a certain amount of material of little interest to them. If a message seems inappropriate forthe audience, Barbour lets the sender know it, though the message is still distributed. He is nowworking on bundling messages according to specific topics.

To subscribe to TCH-ECON you may use either the Bitnet or the Internet format. The list is runusing the Internet format. If you choose the Internet format, simply send a message to TCH-ECON-REQUEST@vax1.elon.edu.The text of the message should be the single wordSUBSCRIBE. If you prefer the Bitnet format, send your message tolistserv@vax1.elon.edu.The text of that message should read SUBSCRIBE TCH-ECON your name.To send a messageto the list for distribution to all other subscribers, address it totch-econ@vax1.elon.edu.

A second list began last fall, called TALK-ECON, which is aimed at principles of economicsstudents. Apparently, TALK-ECON is a hit with the students who use it. Barbour says that thetalk often drifts from economics to college sports and the like, but he thinks that's a small price topay for getting students more involved with economics and the Internet. If you want yourprinciples students to use TALK-ECON, contact Jim Barbour and he will explain the procedure.He can be reached via: voice phone: (910) 548-2106; fax: (910) 538-2643;Internet: barbour@vax1.elon.edu; mailing address:Department of Economics, 2107 Campus Box, Elon College, NC 27244-2020.

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