Just in Time Syllabus Examples
Using current oil/energy price/market information

Why oil/energy as "Just in Time?"


Over the past year most students probably recall gas prices that in some areas reached $2.00 a gallon. They also may recall the rolling blackouts in California due to the energy crisis. The Bush administration's earlier calls for increased oil and natural gas exploration are continuing at a time when prices have decreased dramatically-yet in the face of the war on terror and other tensions in the Middle Eastern oil fields, energy issues are prime motivators for students. They know something about these issues-and now can be given the opportunity to learn more through the language and arguments of economics. (Assignments involving environmental issues-a topic of interest to many students-fit comfortably into this group of assignments.) Instructors need to identify the concepts they want students to explore and give guidance at each level.

Level 1 ­ Receiving current, instructor-mediated information to supplement course text and readings:

Microeconomics: While teaching the concepts of supply and demand, link sites displaying current oil prices to the course syllabus. By comparing current to historic prices, students can describe recent trends in gas/oil/energy prices within the context of past prices. Before circulating the website(s) containing this information, instructors might ask students what current gas prices are in their hometowns, and if they remember what they were earlier in the year. Supplying information about the current CPI and the Index of Consumer Confidence could also work well with this information and potential future assignments, which at Level 1 might simply be asking students to list changes during the term, and to describe what they see.

Take a look at recent oil/energy prices from oil prices.com or Bloomberg's energy page or CNN's Commodity Prices site , or Yahoo's oil page. To check out the history of oil prices look at a DoE site pricing oil between 1970 and 2000 . This location includes a graph and a list of events that have influenced prices. You can compare this information on a graph of Historic Oil and Gas Prices adjusted for inflation.

Environmental Economics: Circulating the above information to students in environmental economics courses can focus student observations on energy prices, the demand for energy and potential environmental problems resulting from fuel consumption.

Level 2 - Comprehending and observing information

Construct a website, link an on-line syllabus or circulate an email message with links to a variety of articles and/or reports that describe the current situation in oil/energy markets. Current articles (as of 12.01) explain recent OPEC decisions not to increase oil supplies in the face of worldwide gluts. Another set of articles might address demand issues allowing students to observe how determinants of demand and supply work (in the real world) in oil price determination. By giving students a selection of articles (often with embedded links of their own) students can read different articles or reports (finding the one that most interests them).

Class or group discussion and interaction then requires that students take responsibility for conveying information from their reading and sharing their observations, facts, insights with students reading other reports articles from the assignment. Some of the articles might provide an entry into discussions of elasticity.

While calculating elastic ties is beyond the scope of most resources freely available on the web, insights into the nature and the importance of the economic concept is importantly demonstrated. A discussion of OPEC introduces cartels and oligopoly into the analysis. There is also some discussion of lower prices motivating more mergers in the industry.

For Level 2 assignments ask students to illustrate, explain, or summarize the information in two or three of the articles. Student groups can share their findings.

A DoE report explains "Why are Gas Prices Falling so Rapidly" . This report includes a discussion of cost elements in the U.S. gas at the pump pricing (including taxes) . "How Much is Too Much ,"is an article from 2000 that discusses $2.00 gasoline prices and conducts a poll of readers about their views on prices they are willing to pay. Marshal Brain's How Stuff Works page contains a thorough examination of gas prices including worldwide gas prices (in gallons and US dollars).

A Los Angeles Times article reviews current oil and gas prices in the U.S, while a Guardian article discusses lower UK inflation rates in relation to lower oil prices. Oil and Gas international has the latest news in the energy industry worldwide including factors affecting supply and demand. A quick glance at recent articles featured in the home page immediately shows why we are experiencing an oil glut. (this page also has a currency converter and a measurement converter)

Internationalizing this example by observing UK and other nations' oil prices allows students to posit questions about oil pricing. See the Department of Trade and Industry's Oil and Gas pages. " Why oil prices are so low" gives a review of international supply and demand factors in the market for oil. Yet, even with these downward pressures, Australian energy prices are rising. Check out the reasons in a Financial Times article.

Environmental Economics: A version of the assignment above might be adapted to environmental economics courses by selecting specific articles linking oil to pollution. For example, even with low oil prices the British government plans for one car in ten to be fueled by hydrogen over the next ten years.

Level 3 - Beyond Observation: Developing Alternative Interpretations

Microeconomics and/or Public Finance: Perhaps using some of the articles and reports above, or others that explore oil taxation, ask students to report on or interpret or classify tax policies toward oil in the UK and in the US.

Environmental Economics: For an environmental course, ask what (if any) effects these tax policies might have on the environment.

How is North Sea oil taxed in the UK? Look at the this site provided by the UK Department of Trade and Industry, and another on UK oil tax policy.

The digest of the UK's energy statistics and fuel prices (in UK pounds) are also reported. If you are really into following gas prices, this Ottawa site keeps track of Ottawa's high and low gas prices (in liters and Canadian dollars!).

Level 4 - Analyzing, Synthesizing, Evaluating Alternative Interpretations

Microeconomics, Public Finance, Environmental Economics:
Level 4 assignments and activities can utilize any of the resources listed above, with a different focus. Now students view the web resources provided with challenges to a group of students or for single student projects. Ask the student to analyze changes in oil prices over time and the relationship of those changes to, perhaps, pollution levels. Ask them to compare the taxation systems on oil in the US and UK and perhaps to develop a critique of either-or both. Have them assess the information in articles and demonstrate how they utilize economic tools or theories.

There are many ways to access information about US oil, petroleum and gas. The Department of Energy maintains an index site that allows you to choose which information you are interested in and explore that information. The DoE also posts oil market growth forecasts. Compare the information available on oil, gas and petroleum to the market growth forecasts. Assess what the implication of the forecasts are for the US in the future. Given your assessment, what might be the effect of higher taxes on gas in the US?

Environmental Economics: A three-part series Special Report, "A Salute to 'The Oil Century'" by John Burnett and Wayne Bell aired on National Public Radio's All Things Considered March 7 - 9. There are audio links to each part. The series begins with the discovery of the Spindletop gusher in Texas, the fortunes that were made and lost, and the environmental problems that followed. It discusses the role of technology in exploring for fossil fuels. After examining this site and others (above) that link pollution to oil consumption, construct a policy that attempts to reduce pollution. Consider the various economic consequences of your policy.

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