Teaching Philosophy

My philosophy for teaching economics is that it should be an interactive experience that exposes students to the core principles of decision making and economic growth, builds students’ competence with quantitative and computational methods, and prepares them for future research or jobs. I believe students learn best when they address directly the ways in which economics is connected to underlying moral questions about how a society should be organized. This allows the student to build a better sense of how economics can illuminate policy debates or decision making with analysis techniques and quantitative methods. I then build on this understanding to increase students’ mastery of the mathematical, theoretical and computational skills necessary to enable future use of economic models.

The reason I emphasize interactive experience is that I find relating abstract economic concepts to specific policy questions or real-life experiences dramatically increases the intuitive (and then eventually, methodological) skills a student can obtain. An example of this I used in the past is conducting game-theory based exercises in class in which students compete to have the highest semester-running score through a series of games. After each version of the game we play, I engage the students in a discussion of why they played the strategy they did and award extra points for describing how their strategy is based on the economic theory. I find that these discussions cement previously discussed lecture material very well. Another interactive method I use is conducting mock-negotiations or debates. For example, in a course I taught on the economics of climate change, each student represented a country and we held an international climate negotiation. Students immediately connected with this approach and were motivated enough to use relatively sophisticated integrated assessment models to support their negotiations with economic analysis. Both of these examples also used new communication and web technologies to improve interactivity and feedback.

Teaching Experience

I was an adjunct professor and visiting lecturer at St. Olaf College, Minnesota, where I taught undergraduate courses, including Principles of Economics (which covered both microeconomics and macroeconomics) and the Economics of Climate Change. I successfully proposed teaching the latter course at St. Olaf College and prepared an entirely new curriculum of course materials that the economics department still uses. I had extremely positive student evaluations (see justinandrewjohnson.com/teaching for a comprehensive set of evaluation forms). In my role as Senior Scientist at The University of Minnesota, I also guest lectured many times for undergraduate, masters and Ph.D. level courses. During my Ph.D., I was a teaching assistant for Microeconomics and Managerial Economics. In addition to traditional course instruction, I have also launched a new short-course for faculty and staff at The Institute on the Environment entitled “Python Programming and Big Data for Sustainability Science and Environmental Economics.” The course was successful and we are currently in the process of proposing a semester-long version for students.

Courses I am Prepared  to Teach

I am ready to teach, at the undergraduate or graduate level, environmental and natural resource economics, agricultural economics, climate economics, microeconomics, macroeconomics, international trade and development, managerial economics, statistics or econometrics. Additionally, I am prepared to serve as a guest lecturer in economics for interdisciplinary courses that seek to combine economics with sustainability science in other disciplines.

New Courses in Development

As discussed above, I have experience creating and teaching new courses. I want to continue this, proposing the development of new courses. An example of this is proposing a new course on data science that uses the R statistical package and Python programming language to build new economic models based on large online data sources and satellite imagery (an extension of the course I proposed in my current position).

Example Student Evaluations

Below is a PDF that includes all student evaluations from when I taught The Economics of Climate Change at St. Olaf College. I have chosen to include every response to illustrate the full range of responses (which was quite positive). To confirm these are the full set, or to receive other information on my teaching experience, please contact the St. Olaf College economics administrator at economics@stolaf.edu. I am also happy to share reviews from the other courses I taught.

Student Reviews from The Economics of Climate Change