Bringing Adam Smith’s pin factory to life: Field trips and discussions as forms of experiential learning

Monica Galizzi


Educators are often aware of the need to implement a variety of teaching techniques to reach out to students with different learning styles. I describe an attempt to target multimodal learners by bringing classical economic texts and concepts to life through discussions, field visits and role playing exercises.

In my Labor Economics class I analyze the relationship existing between demand for labor, technological advances, and trade. As a foundation for such analysis, I assign the reading of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations chapters regarding the division of labor. To increase students’ interest toward the topics, I precede the text discussion with a field visit to a museum of industrial revolution. Here students are asked to participate also as “factory workers” to an assembly line exercise that brings Smith’s description of a pin factory to life. They are then asked to reflect on this experience and to use it as a foundation to inform the following class discussions about Smith’s chapters.

In this paper I describe the main learning and retention objectives of this exercise, its implementation, challenges, and students’ learning outcomes and feedback about enjoyment and recollection. Field trip participants performed significantly better when tested on the relevant concepts. I also discuss the rewards and institutional challenges associated with making use of community resources to increase the understanding of the concrete applications of the economics concept we teach.  


experiential learning; field visits; discussions; learning styles; VARK

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