(ex-Stanford) economist Paul Romer is one of my heros. It all started with the Russ Roberts interview where I was introduced to the “new growth theory” developed by prof. Romer. You must listen to that Econtalk interview “Romer on Growth” (full transcript). You will also want to review the chapter “Economic Growth” in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics.
Romer resigned his tenure at Stanford to start Aplia, a venture that just might realize some of the potential we’ve been hoping for by making the proper cocktail of technology and education. On the Aplia website, here is Paul’s “A message from our founder“
As instructors, we know that student effort is the most important determinant of student success. Unfortunately, we simply do not have the tools to encourage more effort without taking up lots of our time.
In my teaching at the Business School at Stanford in the 1990s, I wanted to assign more homework, but I could not manage the paper flow and grading. I wanted to use experiments to get students involved, but I could not spare time from lectures. To solve these problems, I developed software and teaching materials that dramatically changed the course. Because I could require assignments before every class and run online experiments that made abstract concepts real, my students gained confidence. Everyone came to class better prepared. Our classroom discussions were more productive. Ultimately, they learned more and felt a stronger sense of accomplishment.
To continue these efforts, I started Aplia Inc. Its mission is to change how we teach by requiring from students the effort necessary for them to succeed. In the process, it can raise the productivity of instructors by freeing them of such low-value tasks as marking papers or lecturing on the basics and allowing them to do what they do bestâ€”respond to questions, lead discussions, demonstrate, and challenge.
Thanks for visiting our website. We hope you’ll come back often, as we’ll be adding further demonstrations of our products’ features.
At the above link you’ll find five short videos where Paul explains what Aplia is about. This is early days, but the Aplia approach is an example of what I am hoping for. More on Paul Romer — his Bio page at Stanford where I discovered the Aplia startup.
Iâ€™m a senior fellow in the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). Until recently, I taught at Stanfordâ€™s Graduate School of Business, which led to a teaching award and an entrepreneurial detour into educational software. Before moving to Stanford, I taught at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and the University of Rochester. I am a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the Recktenwald Prize in Economics. My ex-wife, Virginia Langmuir, and I have two children and one grandchild.
I grew up in a political family. In college, I tried to strike out in a new direction by studying mathematical physics and cosmology. Graduate work in economics (first at MIT, then Queens University, and the University of Chicago) was a compromise that brought me back toward my policy roots but still left room to explore big ideas.
The contrast between the economics of objects and the economics of ideas is the thread that runs through my work. In graduate school, I wondered why growth rates had been increasing over time. Fresh from cosmology, I was not motivated by policy concerns. It just seemed like an important puzzle. Existing theory suggested that scarcity combined with population growth should be making things worse, but they kept getting better at ever faster rates. New ideas, in the form of new technologies, had to be the answer. Everyone â€œknewâ€ that. But why do new technologies keep arriving at faster rates? One key insight is that because ideas are nonrival or sharable, interacting with more people turns out to make us all better off. In this sense, ideas are the exact opposite of scare objects. (See my recent paper with Chad Jones for more.)
Over time, it became clear to me that we will not understand the deep dynamics of technological ideas until we understood the dynamics of another type of idea, the rules that people follow. The patent system is a set of rules that encourages the discovery of new technologies. So is our system of open science. Rules that limit direct foreign investment can keep ideas from spreading to poor countries. So can rules (and systems of enforcement) that allow high levels of crime. As we interact with more people, the rules become more important and more complicated.
In my current work on rules, I have come full circle. Iâ€™m starting with a pressing policy concern: How can people living in places like Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Cuba get access to rules that protect them and let them engage in mutually beneficial exchange with others from all over the world? As Avner Grief and Douglass North have already shown, rules raise deeper theoretical issues than technologies. Iâ€™m convinced that practical progress and theoretical insight are more likely if we take the practical concerns seriously, as I’ve done with the suggestion that countries build charter cities.