Experimental Econ/Spanish Class Prompts Student Engagement

By Jon Pactor '71 and Steve Charles
  March 25, 2004

• Experimental Econ/Spanish Class Prompts Student Engagement
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Wabash has once again set the benchmarks for several categories in the 2003 National Survey of Student Engagement. Such results don’t come by accident. Dean of the College Mauri Ditzler encourages professors to experiment with new ways to draw students into learning. Last fall’s Spanish offering of the traditional Economics 101 course is a case in point.

Spanish professor Dan Rogers had long noticed that Spanish conversation courses fail to engage some students. Such courses often use invented scenarios, such as discussions of food or dorm and fraternity life—hardly compelling material.

Rogers had taught a course in Spanish on Mexican history with Professor Rick Warner and observed that students responded much more actively. When economics professor Bert Barreto told Rogers of his hopes to one day teach economics in Spanish, a course was born. Both Barreto and Rogers believed that folding a conversation around the relevant and pressing topics of economics might raise the level of student engagement in both subjects.

Barreto, a native Spanish speaker, taught economic theory in Spanish for the first hour. During the second hour, Rogers put student participation front and center. After reading business sections of newspapers from Latin American countries students had chosen to study, they discussed in Spanish the real world examples of particular economic theories the class was studying, including price controls in Argentina, NAFTA, and the effects of the three-tiered minimum wage in Mexico.

"From my perspective as a Spanish professor, I see students much more deeply engaged in conversation," Rogers says. "The experiment is still in progress, though, and it still remains to be seen if they learn economics any better this way."

One thing Rogers knows for certain: he has deepened his own liberal arts education. Barreto may be a native Spanish speaker, but Rogers is not a "native economist."

"I take tests and quizzes with the students and have to keep up with the homework and readings so that I can direct the conversation course. It has been the most satisfying conversation course I have ever taught."

Contact Professor Barreto (
barretoh@wabash.edu) or Rogers (rogersd@wabash.edu) for an update on the effectiveness of Econ 101/Spanish.