This page focuses on the course 14.73 The Challenges of World Poverty as it was taught by Professor Esther Duflo and Professor Abhijit Banerjee in Spring 2011.
This is a course for those who are interested in the challenge posed by massive and persistent world poverty, and are hopeful that economists might have something useful to say about this challenge. Questions such as the following are explored through lecture, discussion, reading, and writing:
At the end of this course, students should have a good sense of the key questions asked by scholars interested in poverty today and hopefully a few answers as well.
None, although knowledge of statistics can be helpful
One semester per year
Roughly 10% freshmen, 45% sophomores, 25% juniors, and 20% seniors
Roughly 50% Economics, 20% Business / Management, and 30% other
During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:
Below, Prof. Esther Duflo and Prof. Abhijit Banerjee explain the role of pop quizzes in the Spring 2011 offering of 14.73 The Challenges of World Poverty, as well as how the structure of the course has changed to a "flipped" classroom since the Spring 2011 offering.
Pop quizzes were a terrific tool to ensure that students came to class prepared, having read the readings and thought through some of the tougher concepts in the course on their own time. This way, students engaged with the class in and out of the classroom. Students also came to class prepared, and thus got much more out of lectures, as they could contribute their own thoughts and ideas based on the readings.
The “pop” element of the quizzes – also thought of as a quizzes randomly administered – was very effective at ensuring students did readings even when no quiz was administered.
Since 2011, the course has shifted in its approach. All of the lectures were video taped in 2011. The course now employs a “flipped” model, where students are expected to watch the lectures at home on the edX platform. During this time, they answer "finger exercises" and homework questions online. This frees up class time for more interactive activities.
In particular, during the first half of class students are grouped into teams. They prepare a presentation together on a weekly case study (e.g., ways of alleviating poverty through health-based interventions), pulling from readings and the online lecture video.
Then, in the latter half of class, one group is randomly chosen (in real time) to present to the rest of the class. This random element ensures that all teams have an incentive to create a strong presentation, since anyone could be asked to present. At the same time, it would only be feasible for one group to present each day, given limited class time and class space constraints. Thus, the random draw allows us to operate within this logistical context while still providing incentives for all students to perform. Ah, the power of randomness!
The presentations are then evaluated by TAs. Each student is assigned both an individual and team grade. This grade is incorporated into each student’s final grade, along with their performance on online assignments, written assignments, and exams.
Teaching Assistants (TAs) are typically second to third year graduate students selected from the development track in the economics PhD program. TAs have often either completed an intensive development course in their first two years in the PhD program and/or have worked on research projects with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, which is directed by Prof. Duflo and Prof. Banerjee.