This page focuses on the course 15.031J Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies as it was taught by Professor Richard Schmalensee in Spring 2012.
This course examined the choices and constraints regarding sources and uses of energy by households, firms, and governments through a number of frameworks to describe and explain behavior at various levels of aggregation. Examples included a wide range of countries, scopes, settings, and analytical approaches.
Our main goals were to show students first that energy-related problems are not just technical/engineering problems; they generally have important economic, political, and social dimensions and, second, that the tools of social science can help one understand and take action on those dimensions. The course was intended to provide education, not training; we hoped that students in later life would know enough to seek out and learn specific tools as needed.
This course was required for undergraduate Energy Studies minors, but drew many students from beyond that minor.
14.01 Principles of Microeconomics is a prerequisite for taking this course.
This course is occasionally offered during the fall semester.
The students' grades were based on the following activities:
Almost all juniors or seniors, with more juniors than seniors. Typically, one or two graduate students particpated as listeners.
The majority of students were from the School of Engineering, mainly chemical and mechanical majors. There were also a few economics and management majors. Very few students were from the Schools of Science or Architecture & Planning.
Students’ backgrounds varied a lot. We required only basic microeconomics, but some were economics majors, and others had forgotten much of the economics they had learned. Some had held summer jobs in the energy industry or in environmental organizations concerned with energy-related issues; others knew nothing at all about energy production or use.
The class size should small enough to permit discussion – perhaps around 50 or 60 students maximum.
During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:
Below, Professor Richard Schmalensee describes various aspects of how he taught 15.031J Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies.
15.031J Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies was normally taught by a team of instructors (the single-instructor format that was recorded for publication on OCW was atypical). Our team worked together on all aspects of designing the course—from curating the reading list to developing the details of the assignments. With the exception of the Spring 2012 offering of the course, we were all in the classroom during each class session. This led to engaging discussions between instructors and interjections that allowed students to see different ways of approaching the issues at the center of our curriculum. Students valued this opportunity.
As a team, we also emphasized class discussion and interaction to a greater degree than most undergraduate courses because we were accustomed to teaching MIT Sloan MBA students. In fact, two of our pedagogical decisions were specifically designed to engage students in learning from each other. For example, we created the team paper assignment to give students an opportunity to work collaboratively while delving more deeply into a topic of interest. We also included oral presentations of the final team papers to create opportunities for students to learn from (and to be critical of) the work of their colleagues.