Three important questions are raised and answered with respect to teaching and learning economics with simulation games.
Why use a simulation game to teach & learn economics?
The recommendation in many economics education studies is to adopt more active and collaborative learning methodologies (Greenlaw, 1999). Simkins (1999) stated “… teaching practices, which rely heavily on the lecture format, are not doing enough to develop students’ cognitive learning skills, attract good students to economics, and motivate them to continue coursework in the discipline." (p. 278). This is consistent with the results of a survey published in the American Economic Review by Allgood (2004) that shows that students “rarely take economics as a free elective – especially beyond principles." (p. 5). More is needed to be done in the classroom to excite students about economics education.
Simulations and games are argued to be an excellent supplement to the standard lecture. As evidence, both computerized and non-computer based simulation and games are showing significant levels of growth in education (see Lean, Moizer, Towler, and Abbey, 2006; Dobbins, Boehlje, Erickson and Taylor, 1995; Gentry, 1990; and the links: www.gdconf.com/conference/sgs.htm and www.seriousgames.org). The key benefits of simulations and games as teaching and learning tools include:
What are some tips in selecting a simulation game for teaching economics to improve learning?
- Promotes greater student involvement. Simulations help provide a learning environment in which students are more active participants, which enhances learning.
- Improves student motivation.
- Increases the realism and relevance of class material.
- Provides further integration of principles.
- Provides students with experience in analysis and critical thinking.
- Provides a vehicle through which students can sharpen interpersonal and communication skills.
An excellent summary of criteria for selecting an effective game to teach economics is presented by McHaney, White and Heilman (2002). The recommendations include:
How do I teach economics using a simulation game to improve learning?
- Choose a simulation game that is used by reputable associations, universities and colleges, and high schools.
- Choose a simulation game that is comprehensive and easy to implement in class.
- Choose a simulation game that provides a valuable, reliable, and realistic learning environment at a reasonable price to students and other individuals who are interested to learn more about economics, apply economic analysis, or test a strategy/theory.
- Choose a simulation game that has a toll-free customer service phone number and provides excellent e-mail support to their users worldwide to quickly answer any user questions. This customer service must allow the individuals to concentrate on concepts and leaves the customer service to answer all technical questions.
- Choose a simulation game that is easy to use and easy to teach even to those who have no prior knowledge of economics.
An excellent summary of the steps involved in using a business simulation game is presented by Fritzche and Cotter (1990) in the Guide to Business Gaming and Experiential Learning.
References on Teaching and Learning Economics with Games
- Determine the learning objectives of the game. Select a simulation game that teaches or reinforces one or more specific topics in the class.
- Simple and short games are excellent to reinforce single topics like price elasticity.
- Complex and longer running games are excellent as an integrative tool to bring many concepts together or to demonstrate long-run or dynamic analysis.
- Decide on individual or group work. This depends on the objectives and complexity of the exercise.
- Group work provides the benefit of sharing knowledge and promoting teamwork. Typical group size ranges from 2 to 4.
- Individual work avoids the free-rider problem.
- The more complex the simulation game, the greater are the advantages of group work by taking advantage of the diversity of student knowledge and the use of division of labor.
- Assign relevant supplemental readings from the simulation game student manual or other sources that helps explain the technical details of the game.
- Allow for practice games if permitted by the simulation software.
- Clearly define the grading criteria. Grading may involve one or several dimensions.
- Quantitative measures from the simulation game performance.
- Written reports explaining game performance.
- Presentations by students on their simulation performance, analysis, and learning lessons.
- Finish with a debriefing session (general class discussion) on learning lessons from the simulation game.
- Students prepare a list of learning objectives to discuss with class.
Allgood, S., Bosshardt, W., Van der Klaauw, W., and Watts, M. (2004). What Students Remember and Say about College Economics Years Later. American Economic Review, 94(2), 259-65.
Dobbins, C. L., Boehlje, M., Erickson, S., and Taylor, R. (1995). Using Games to Teach Farm and Agribusiness Management, Review of Agricultural Economics, 17(3), 247-255.
Fritzche, D., and Cotter, R. (1990). Guidelines for Administering Business Games, in Guide to Business Gaming and Experiential Learning, edited by Gentry, J., ABSEL, Nichols/GP Publishing, East Brunswick, 74-89.
Gentry, J., ed., (1990), Guide to Business Gaming and Experiential Learning, ABSEL, Nichols/GP Publishing, East Brunswick.
Greenlaw, S.A. (1999). Using groupware to enhance teaching and learning in undergraduate economics, Journal of Economic Education, 30(winter), 33-42.
Lean, J., Moizer, M., Towler, C. A. (2006). Active Learning in Higher Education, Journal of Simulation and games, 7(3), 227-242.
McHaney, R., White, D., Heilman, G. E. (2002). Simulation Project Success and Failure: Survey Findings, Simulation & Gaming, 33(1), 49-66.
Mills, B.J. and Cottell, P.G. (1998), Cooperative learning for higher education faculty, Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press
Simkins, S.P. (1999), Promoting active-student learning using the World Wide Web in economics courses, Journal of Economic Education, 30(Summer), 278-91.