Games for Teaching Economics: Using MobLab in the Classroom
When designing economics games at MobLab we strive for fun, simplicity, and creating "Ah-Ha" moments for students. We want the games to be memorable and aid in discovery of economic lessons. However, that doesn't mean games are a substitute for good teaching. Far from it. Our games are meant to complement good instruction. To get the most out of our games an educator should be asking questions about timing, graphical presentation, follow up reflections, and more. Some "best practices" are already posted on our support site. Over the next couple weeks I will be posting a series of "Teaching Tips" that will (hopefully) help educators as they prepare to use MobLab in the fall. In this first installment I want to focus on in-class pedagogy. Before delving into in-class pedagogy the best question I can think to ask is, "Where is the value in running games?" From my point of view the value is three-fold: (1) Students see there is an empirical basis for economic theory (or where the theory is misspecified), (2) Students gain an appreciation for strategic interaction, and (3) Students see that the "rules of the game" structure that strategic interaction and alter outcomes. With that in mind I submit the following suggestions.
Students write reflectionsHave students write reflections on their thought processes. In subsequent posts I will be developing some helpful writing prompts but it could be something as simple as asking them prior to the game, "What do you predict will happen?". Then, once the game is played asking them a Yes/No question about whether the outcomes conformed to their prediction. Finally, you can follow up with an extended question like, "What did you (mis)identify about the incentives that led you to a(n) (in)correct prediction?" The responses to all these questions can be captured using multiple choice or free text responses in our survey module. In addition to (or rather than) asking about the student's specific experience you can also present them with the results of the whole class. Then, ask them what the data implies. In my next "pedagogical practices" post I will be writing about out-of-class reports that scholars of economic education have found to dramatically improve the impact of games on student performance. One benefit of using our survey module for these reflections is that you can later post the data from these responses on a discussion board and allow peers to advance or critique the thinking of their fellow classmates.
Students play the game as a two person teamWhile all of your students will have MobLab accounts it might prove useful on some games to pair them up in two-person teams and have them participate on one account. The benefit of this approach would be that two people are talking through what kind of decision to make. This helps students to articulate their own thinking about the game and highlights different strategies and thought processes.
Students play a sequence of gamesMobLab games can be conducted in a sequence and run back-to-back to demonstrate that outcomes depend on institutional arrangements. For example, if you were teaching a Principles of Microeconomics class you could conduct our Pit Market game where students are getting out of their seats and buyers/sellers are haggling face-to-face to make transactions. Then you could play that same game with a policy intervention like a price ceiling. The students can then compare the data under the different institutional rules and the process can build up their intuition about convergence to equilibrium, shortages, and deadweight loss.