'The Office' inspires professor's economic concepts website
Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013
MANHATTAN -- Educators seeking to explain supply and demand to economics students need look no further than fictional Princess Unicorn dolls. Dan Kuester, director of economic undergraduate studies at Kansas State University, says a popular TV show may open the door to understanding numerous economic principles.
Kuester, who also is the university's Trenary chair in economics, recently created a website that compiles numerous video clips from the NBC comedy "The Office" along with the economic principle each clip demonstrates.
Kuester said the show's mishap-prone manager, Michael Scott, and the employees of fictional paper company Dunder Mifflin, provide numerous examples of economics principles that help him connect with his students.
"The clips are silly, but they make a point," Kuester said. "They help students remember and reinforce concepts."
Teachers can demonstrate supply and demand by playing a short clip of the character Dwight, the office's oddball, purchasing the remaining inventory of a popular Christmas toy, Princess Unicorn dolls, to sell them at a profit to procrastinating parents.
"Other characters look at him like he's crazy, but he read the market," said Kuester. "Clips like these are a strong resource for educators who are trying to find innovative ways to illustrate economics to undergraduate classes."
Kuester's original process of bringing the DVD and preparing the clip before class was tedious and time-consuming. To develop a simpler process, Kuester worked with Dirk Mateer, a professor at the University of Kentucky, and Christopher Youderian, a recent Kansas State University doctoral graduate in economics, to create the website, economicsoftheoffice.com.
The website, launched in early summer 2013, currently contains 35 video clips. All clips have the option to be captioned, and information is provided on which characters appear in the clip.
Kuester said the goal is for educators -- typically college professors teaching entry-level economics lectures -- to use the clips in their classes to help students remember concepts in a fun way.
"We want educators to have a positive experience teaching economics, as well as the students," Kuester said. "It gives students a way to trigger memories about certain subjects and get a real-world feel."
Kuester said using popular video clips in the classroom makes the economic discipline more palatable for students, as well as easier for educators to explain principles that students may not come across in their daily lives. For example, the show explains arbitrage, or the simultaneous purchase and sale of an asset to profit from a price difference. A clip of the character Dwight buying a co-worker's car and flipping it for a profit makes the difficult concept easier to digest, Kuester said.
"It's almost always a 'what not to do' -- with some exceptions," he said. "Some characters in the show have a good understanding of economics, while others are clueless. Either way, it's a good icebreaker or something to break up a lecture."
Kuester said the website has been submitted to the Journal of Economic Education's online review and is awaiting approval. Necessary precautions have been taken to ensure the clips are safe and contain no viruses. Educators and students are welcome to use the website in classes, as well as submit new clips and concepts for consideration, which also can be done through the website.