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RMU Professor Uses Music Videos to Teach Economics

Clyde Robinson

Music can soothe you, make you cry, get you pumped up for a workout, or make you tap your feet. And to Brian O’Roark, professor of economics at Robert Morris University, music is also a great way teach economics.

For his efforts, O’Roark was recently recognized by the Middle Atlantic Association of Colleges of Business Administration, which bestowed upon him an Undergraduate Teaching Innovation Award.

O’Roark says that his interest in using music to teach was inspired, in part, by the 1990s VH1 music video series “Pop-Up Video,” which showed music videos and added jokes and anecdotes about the artist in pop-up text that would flash on the screen.

He realized that this combination of music with storytelling could also be used in teaching.

Juxtaposing songs with economic interpretations in overlaid text, O’Roark created new versions of music videos that he started to share with his students. He says the videos let students view economics issues from fresh perspectives.

He admits that some songs -- like “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and “Taxman” by the Beatles -- have obvious economic themes. But he particularly likes using songs that don’t initially seem to be about economics at all, like Weird Al Yankovic’s “Skipper Dan,” which he says is actually “a story about what we call tournament theory in economics.”

Using these songs in his teaching, O’Roark explains, creates an impression on students and makes them excited because they’re able to apply what they’re learning.

Below, check out O’Roark’s “economics” take on Macklemore's "Thrift Shop":