By: Walter Yuan
Economic games have made it to the high school classroom. On April 19, MobLab, a mobile education technology startup focused on bringing hands-on experiences to students, visited BASIS Tucson’s AP Economics and Experimental Economics classes, both taught by Ms. Holly Whitaker, an innovative teacher who is dedicated to fostering interactive classrooms.
The twenty-plus students of the AP Economics class first participated in a 1st price English Auction, followed by a 2nd price Sealed Bid auction. A number of students bid up the price slowly in the English Auction and some had the intuition to wait until the last minute to come in and ‘steal’ the auction. This gave the instructor the perfect opportunity to discuss and dissect the ‘sniping’ phenomenon on e-Bay. Next up, the winner of 2nd price auction mentioned she bid her whole $200 cash endowment because she knew she only had to pay the 2nd price and was hoping that 2nd price would be low. When she realized that she had to pay $199 (she wasn’t the only one with that strategy!), she and other students suddenly had no trouble understanding the Winner’s Curse or why it is optimal to bid their values in a 2nd price auction. As one student noted, “[MobLab] was fun and engaging, but at the same time we got to learn. It is rare to find fun games that can teach you something as well.”
In the smaller Experimental Economics class (the first time an experimental economic course is being offered at BASIS), the students got into even more in-depth discussions about why they were picking certain strategies. Take the coordination game for example, where one player gets a higher payoff if both players coordinate on going to the movies and the other player gets a higher payoff if both players coordinate on watching football, but both players get the lowest payoff when they miscoordinate. Some students tried to agree on an action beforehand but they were matched anonymously. Some thought just playing the action that got themselves the higher payoff would not be fair to the other player who would end up with the lower payoff. When the instructor suggested mixing between the two actions, some students worried about the increased probability of miscoordination. One student suggested agreeing beforehand to alternate between the two actions and that is when the instructor mentioned flipping a coin to re-introduce the concept of mixed strategy equilibrium, a complex game theory concept that the students discovered themselves step by step. In fact, the biggest challenge teachers may encounter is making sure that class does not over with all the animated and excited discussions that goes on during and after every game.
Overall, the students loved the user interface, the simple elegance of the games, and interacting with their peers. One student remarked, “I really enjoyed the games and the lectures that accompanied them. They were engaging and interesting, and I would definitely enjoy doing it again.” As the student surveys reveal, all of the students found the games to be more engaging than just a traditional lecture and many thought it helped them understand the course material better. The demand is there: many students want to use it again!
Walter Yuan is CEO and co-founder of MobLab, a venture capital backed startup dedicated to delivering mobile technologies for interactive games in the social science classroom.