Brandeis International Business School

Lights, camera, economics!

In lighthearted videos, Prof. Nelson Sá mixes humor, learning to keep students engaged

Prof. Nelson Sá created almost a dozen short videos explaining various economics concepts to liven up his online classes last year.
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Prof. Nelson Sá created almost a dozen short videos explaining various economics concepts to liven up his online classes last year.

Prof. Nelson Sá plunged his X-wing starfighter into deep space, the half-finished Death Star looming in the distance.
 
“It’s a trap!” he barked from his cockpit as Imperial TIE Fighters swarmed the ragtag Rebel Alliance. Sá watched wide-eyed as spaceships exploded around him.
 
“The Rebel Alliance needs to issue more bonds,” he said.
 
In reality, Sá is an economics professor at Brandeis International Business School — not an intergalactic fighter pilot. But he’s also now something of an actor, thanks to the series of explainer videos he created for his Introduction to Macroeconomics class.
 
Sá has posted more than a half dozen videos to his Twitter account. In his Star Wars-themed lesson, he talks about monetary policy and interest rates. In the other videos, Sá and his wife, a Duke University economist, act out various lighthearted scenarios to illustrate a range of economic topics.
 
“Early in the fall semester, we were trying to figure out how to engage students in our remote lectures,” said Sá. “We were talking for an hour and a half and figured there had to be something different, something to keep students engaged.”
 
So the couple decided to hit record and see what happened.
 
In one video, Sá and his wife mull over whether to lend their neighbor money. But after a back-and-forth, the neighbor backs out once the Federal Reserve raises its benchmark interest rate and the cost of borrowing becomes too expensive.
 
In another, Sá explains quantitative easing and how policymakers can deploy the strategy during an economic crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. For a visual aid, he superimposes the face of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell on a pilot dumping hundred-dollar bills from a helicopter.
 
“The best way to do these videos is to integrate some kind of current event,” said Sá. “You relate what’s going on in the real world and try to do it in an entertaining way.”

Sá said the response from his students has been enthusiastic. “Students kept joking that I should get an Oscar for these!” he said.
 
In response, Sá used an Oscars snub as the basis for his final video of the fall semester. In the video, Sá dreams that he loses out on the award for best director to Alejandro Iñárritu, who won the Academy Award in 2016 for his work on The Revenant.
 
While writing out the plot, Sá, buoyed by his successful foray into the world of humorous educational videos, decided to take a leap of faith and call up Iñárritu’s agent.
 
“I didn’t expect to hear anything,” said Sá. “I thought they would just ignore me. But his agent called me back and said he is interested and would do it, but he just started a major project and is on location for shooting.”
 
Maybe George Lucas is available.

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