We are extending our Conversations with Educators series. Daniel Cisneros is a Ph.D. candidate and has been using MobLab in conjunction with Ohio State’s new iPad program. His approach to teaching blends his interests in behavioral economics into principles courses, ensuring students understand the practical, everyday application of theory .
Q: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself, your background, and how you became interested in economics.
A: I am a graduate student at The Ohio State University doing my Ph.D. in Economics. Funny enough, economics was not my major when I started college. Initially, I was interested in psychology and human behavior, an interest that I had carried over from my high school years.
One day, my girlfriend at the time (and who happens to be my wife now), asked me for help understanding Nash equilibria. Since I wanted to help, I used some online resources to learn the basics of game theory and how to find Nash equilibria. The more I read, the more interested I became on the topic. My girlfriend suggested I take economic courses since I liked game theory so much. I started with principles of microeconomics and immediately found out that economics was not at all what I thought it was. Economics viewed human behavior in a different light. It had some similarities with psychology, but at the same time, it was completely different. I enjoyed both as they complemented each other, so instead of choosing one or the other, I decided to major in both and eventually pursue a Ph.D. in Economics with a focus on Behavioral Economics.
Q: What was the first class you taught and what did you find out about what it takes to be a good teacher? Was there a specific lesson that you took away to apply to future classes?
A: The first class I taught was Principles of Economics. My class was made up of 80 undergraduate students at Ohio State, most of which were freshmen and sophomores.
What I found out, is that a professor needs to understand that every student is different. Not just in their intellectual abilities, but in their experiences, current environment, and level of interaction.
Similarly, all professors are different; but this is good. Before my first day, I remember thinking about what kind of instructor I would be. I tried to remember what my professors were like and what separated the good from the great. What I took from my first experience teaching is that you don't have to be like the professors you've had in the past. The knowledge you need to teach your students is already in your head; all you have to do is be yourself. The information will come naturally, and this will make it easier to connect with your students.
Q: How has the experience with MobLab been from your perspective? What have student reactions been?
A: My experience with MobLab has been great. Using experiments in class seems like a natural way of teaching economic concepts. Some students have a hard time understanding how the concepts we learn affect their everyday lives. By putting them in class experiments, we can say "look, these are not just theories in a textbook. You do these things every day.”
I have received very positive feedback from my students on the use of MobLab. It's a way to step back from the usual PowerPoint slides and do something more interactive. By adding a little incentive, extra credit points, for example, you can have students really engaging with the experiment. From the instructor's seat, it is always fun to see students laughing or trying to figure out the best way to beat the "game."
Q: What has been the easiest/hardest part about using MobLab in class?
A: Once you have an experiment in mind, the easiest part of using MabLab is setting up the experiment. MobLab offers several variations of each experiment and allows the instructor to set up the parameters of the experiment. It only takes a couple of minutes to have the experiment ready to run whenever you need to.
However, MobLab offers a good number of experiments. One of the hardest parts of using MobLab is deciding which games are the best to use and when in your curriculum to place them.
Q: Do you have a favorite MobLab game to play with students?
A: My favorite MobLab game to play with students is the trust game. In my curriculum, I talk about behavioral economics, and we discuss topics of fairness and reciprocity. For this purpose, I use the trust game before I teach them the material and show them the results after they have learned about fairness and reciprocity.
Trust Game Interface
A fun extension I sometimes do is that I will allow them to chat with one another. I do this for two reasons; first, it is an excellent example of whether communication can help them reach a better equilibrium. Second, it is quite funny to see the things students say to convince the other player to cooperate.
Q: My last question is what advice would you give to a new instructor who is using Moblab for the first time?
A: The advice I would give a new instructor using MobLab for the first time is always to think ahead. Sometimes we are used to seeing some results for certain games and assume our students will most likely play the same way. From experience, I can say that sometimes students surprise you and reach interesting equilibria. So always be prepared to discuss all types of results, even ones you are not expecting to get.
The second piece of advice I can give is always to have students interacting with you and not just the game. Ask them what they like or don't like about the games. In some cases, students ask if we can redo an experiment, or they will ask for more time. The students will have more fun and engage more if you pay attention, not only to the results of the games but also to their feedback about the games themselves.
Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us!