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‘Leveraged Flip’ Course Revolves Around Experts

University of Maine economist James Breece has traveled to China a half-dozen times and as a University of Maine System (UMS) representative, he recruited Chinese students for the seven UMS campuses.

When Breece — who specializes in macroeconomics, international trade and forecasting — recently returned to the classroom he thought it was important for UMaine to offer a course about the Chinese economy.

After all, in the last decade, China’s economy grew seven times faster than that of the United States. China is the largest exporter and second-largest importer on the planet and, with a population of 1.3 billion, its workforce is considerable.

So he designed and guided a spring 2014 course titled The Chinese Economy that examined its transformation and impact on global trading patterns, distribution of wealth and the environment. A total of 43 students, including 12 graduate students, enrolled.

Breece dubs the class format “Leveraged Flip” — one in which students read assigned textbooks, write papers and view videos outside of class and interact with guest speakers and participate in discussion during class time.

He called upon UMaine colleagues who concentrate in Chinese culture, food, history, language and government to share their expertise with students. Other guest lecturers included Michael Riedel from the American Embassy in Beijing, as well as gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, an attorney who lived in Beijing for several years and represented investors in the Chinese market.

The class “was an unbelievable learning experience,” says Elyse Doyle of Gray, Maine, who is on track to earn a master’s in economics in May 2015. “It was unlike any course I had ever taken.”

Mike Kuhn of Bridgewater, New Jersey, says in this increasingly globalized environment, he took the class to understand how the world’s largest economy functioned from a business perspective.

“The format of the class was probably the best I’ve ever taken part in because we got actual exposure to people who have lived through both success and failure in China, both of which provided insightful feedback,” says Kuhn, who recently graduated with a Master of Business Administration.

“Dr. Breece has done a fantastic job of giving students an in-depth, hands-on experience of what China is all about as opposed to staring at a book and sitting through lectures, neither of which spark much interest.”

The pedagogy was so successful that Breece is replicating it this fall in a course titled Health Economics. He’ll team-teach with staff from Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and continue to invite a variety of guest speakers.

Breece, a forecaster of national and state economies, says this format makes it possible to maintain important classes during a fiscal climate in which some colleges are struggling to replace retiring professors.

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