of technique: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7xHZmvfIdt8Video
of technique in action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF2ZZEVhnDA
I am an instructor for Economics 1101 at the University of Minnesota,
Twins Cities. I have been in this role for the last two years. In the last
couple of years, I have taught a relatively smaller class in the Fall (about
70-100 students) and a bigger lecture in the Spring (about 350-550 students).
In either setting, I found it extremely helpful to keep the students engaged –
whether it is through activities, discussions, or telling stories. In this
document, I hope to specifically focus on how I come up with activities for the
class to keep students engaged, and give an example of this in teaching game
If there was anything I learned while I was an
undergraduate, it is that my attention span doesn’t last that long when a
lecturer is just talking. In fact, most of the time, I fell asleep in class
because I just lost focus for a brief moment, and failed to re-engage myself
into the lecture. My guess is that many undergraduates today are in a similar
boat – it’s not that they don’t want to learn, it’s just that they can’t focus
well enough. Thus, I take an extra few minutes while lesson planning to think
of creative activities that I can do in class that will help me in keeping the
students focus, and at the same time get an idea that I am teaching across.
One thing that I have also learned over the years is this:
If you involve students from the class, everyone will pay attention. It’s
strange, but whenever a fellow classmate is up in front of the classroom,
everyone stops what they are doing and focuses to the front. It’s something
about their peers being up, or because they can relate better with a fellow
classmate, or it’s a break from me talking. Whatever it is, I have a golden
opportunity to pass on an important concept to my class.
To give some examples of these in-class activities involving
students: an auction to introduce supply and demand, having students help me
with a giant rubber-band to discuss elasticity, having three students be
potential owners of the hometown NFL team and another ten or so students be
potential ticket-buyers to illustrate the impact of pricing on quantity for a
monopoly, playing a popular game show to analyze game theory, and more.
I now want to focus specifically on the last activity that I
mentioned, the game show and game theory, mostly because it is my favorite
activity in the class and students have a lot of fun learning about something
very important. I start off by introducing the game. There was a British game
show called Golden Balls, where four
contestants go through a series of rounds to build up the amount of money that
the winner could take home. Two contestants are also eliminated throughout the
game, leaving two for the final activity, called “split or steal.” In split or
steal, each contestant have two balls in front of them. Inside one ball is the
word “Split,” and inside the other is the word “Steal.” A contestant would know
which one of his ball is “Split” or “Steal” because he can look inside the
balls before the round starts. Then, the two contestants can talk with each
other for about a minute, at the end of which they must pick a ball to play. If
both players picked their “Split” ball, then they split the winnings and each
go home with money. However, if one person picks “Split” and the other “Steal,”
then the person who picked “Steal” will get all the winnings. Lastly, if both
pick “Steal,” then both go home with nothing.
After introducing the game, I have students come up to play
the game, with money on the line. We then analyze whether the students’
decisions were in line with what we expected them to do, based on game theory.
To make things line up with the framework that we discussed in class, I also
assume that there is a negative payout from picking “Split” when someone picks
“Steal,” since on top of making no money, there is a psychological hurt of
Following the games with students, I show the portion of the
actual game show, and go through the payouts and have the class predict what
will happen. Turns out there are some interesting twists that the class does
not expect in these shows! For example, in one video, a man told the other
contestant that he will pick “Steal” no matter what, and will split the winning
with him after the show. Thus, he will trying to get the other person to pick
“Split,” because if “Steal” was picked, both would steal and both will end up
with nothing. In the end, they both ended up picking “Split.” This was a great
example of the “first mover’s advantage” concept that we go over in class, so I
tie it back to that concept.
I believe a good part of why I am so excited each year to
teach game theory is because the class is so engaged while learning it. I hope,
on a small scale, that this will help other instructors in making game theory
engaging for the class. On a larger scale, I hope that I have given a good
reason why involving the class often will lead to a better learning environment
for the students.
The Board votes are in – now it’s your turn help choose this year’s winners!