Podcast #59

Economists study systems where individuals make decisions about buying, selling, and investment, and interesting patterns emerge. As in many disciplines, they teach by developing theory and pointing to examples in the real world, but it’s not always very convincing. Doing simulations and playing games in class lets students participate and see for themselves where the theory does and does not apply. Our guests Bob Gazzale (Toronto) and Matt Olczak (Aston) do this in their classes using three different web platforms: Moblab, economics-games.com, and vEconlab. In this episode they share their experiences with each.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

0:30 It’s still Ed Tech Summer. A follow-up about McGraw Hill’s digital product lineup.

  • SmartBook: the digital textbook (“Lose the textbook. Lose the ebook. Use SmartBook.”)
  • LearnSmart: the study guides (“Lose the cheat sheets. Forget the flash cards. Use LearnSmart.”)
  • Connect: the whole she-bang (“Unlock the potential of each learner.”)

Good slogan’s are hard to come by.

5:27 This week’s topic: students playing games in the econ classroom using a software app. Not talking about gamification, but instead the way economists think of games: Maximizing utility or happiness. From Adam Smith to von Neumann. Games in an econ classroom are like experiments in a chemistry class.

9:27 First-hand experience is different from a theory or an equation. In an economics classroom, you’re not really buying and selling: it’s simulation–but not virtual reality.

12:32 Who are we talking to?

14:54 Bob Gazzale on using MobLab in a large (400-student) lecture class. Why? Having students participate in markets solves ‘the alien problem’: thinking that the agents in economic models are not actually human beings.

17:19 How does MobLab work? Bob worked for MobLab for a year. They have a large body of pre-packaged games and market simulations, and they have a survey module that’s a classroom response system. Instructors sign up. Students use a browser or apps. The range of games overwhelms some professors.

20:57 Good instructions are important. After the game is played, students must reflect.

23:58 Bob used MobLab in his tutorials (discussion sections), and students who used MobLab earned higher grades.

28:54 It’s hard to know what’s causing improvements in learning when we change our teaching in several ways. Bob is planning a multi-site trial of MobLab.

30:38 The learning is visible and measurable, and the game keeps helps to keep students engaged. Game play results don’t match theory, and this is an opportunity to help students understand what a theory is.

33:39 MobLab has a few different pricing models.

35:18 Matt Olczak (Aston Business School uses economics-games.com and Veconlab when he teaches the economic theory of firms and competition. Why does Matt play games?

37:04 Matt plays a prisoner’s dilemma game. Matt has his students play as pairs against other pairs. This lets students talk with their partner about their move before making it.

40:42 Matt lays out rules first and reminds them of the theory for a simple case, but he doesn’t tell them what should happen when they play the more complex version. Economics-games.com will let you monitor the game in progress and does a nice job summarizing results at the end.

43:58 Students get extra-excited when they are rewarded with real money.

45:12 Matt uses Charlie Holt’s Veconlab to do a supply chain experiment. Students play roles of wholesalers and retailers. The theory isn’t terribly intuitive, and game seems to be best way to get students to understand what happens.

49:22 How did Matt decide which service to use for which game? Economics-games and Veconlab complement each other.

50:05 Matt uses physical raffle tickets to manage student logins and giving out rewards

52:16 Matt’s planning to play more games and integrate the results into subsequent lectures.

53:34 Cartright and Stepanova (2012) say it’s critical to force students to reflect on games they play. Doug’s students want more games.

55:11 It’s easy to get started with economics-games.com and Veconlab.

56:21 Software with physical raffle tickets and real money? Doug likes physical objects, because they make memorable moments.

58:09 Doug’s colleague Vida Maralani brings dice into class when she’s teaching statistical methods. Doug exposes his Dungeons and Dragons roots. We don’t have enough physical objects and bodily movements in the classroom. Steve Strogatz’s technique for teaching eigenvectors and eigenvalues is one of this podcast’s greatest hits.

1:01:30 Imaginary rewards don’t work as well for simulation purposes. We want to make our material real for students, but we also want to encourage our students’ imaginative powers. We need more ways to simulate experiences in the classroom. Dale’s Cone of Experience. Distributed representations may be superior.

1:06:28 Reality is messy, though that may confuse students.

1:09:25 Signing off.