Teaching with Games and Experiments

We've compiled a few best practices for maximizing student learning with games and experiments.

1. Make sure game instructions are clear.

By making sure that students know the environment they face and how payoffs are calculated, learning is focused on often surprising outcomes from the interaction of maximizing agents. We have discussed best practices on reviewing game instructions here

2. Research shows that games and experiments are most effective when students actively reflect on them.

Consider asking the following questions after students have played, but before results have been presented. (You can set up free-text response questions in MobLab's survey module or simply ask a few of your students to share.)

  • Please describe the strategy you used.
  • What strategy do you think an economist would use in this game?
  • What would an economist predict would happen in this game? Explain.

After students have seen the results, consider the following questions:

  • What patterns do you observe in the data?
  • What do you find surprising about the results of this game?
  • What might explain the difference between what happened in our game and what an economist would have predicted?

If these student reflections are posted to a discussion board, consider allowing other students to comment on the analysis of their peers.

3. Another way to encourage reflection is to make each "player" be a two-student team.

This can be done by asking two students to share one device and make decisions collaboratively. Talking through decisions helps highlight different strategies and thought processes.

4. We generally advise playing a game before the concept is assigned.

This is because you do not want knowledge of the theory to bias students towards a particular pattern of play. As with all rules there are exceptions. For example, some instructors use the Competitive Market (or Pit Market) game before discussing supply and demand equilibrium ("Is there a theory that can explain the pattern we see in the results?") while some do so after ("We claimed that the market would find the price equating quantities supplied and demanded. Does it actually happen?") Note that with this game, we are less worried that student play will be affected by knowledge of the theory.

5. Sequence games to highlight how changes in the environment may lead to different outcomes.

Suppose you want to explore factors leading to cooperative outcomes in the Prisoner's Dilemma. First, run a series of one-shot games. Follow up with an indefinitely repeated game where you allow chat. Ask your students if they changed their strategies and why.

6. Consider providing incentives to maximize payoffs.

Many instructors are reluctant to have student grades depend on performance (as opposed to participation).We discuss some alternative incentives here. We will discuss some alternative incentives in a follow-up article.

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