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Using games to understand the economics of public policy


In order to help her third-year students understand how economic theories might play out in the real world, Atisha Ghosh uses ClassEx games in both online and in-person seminars. ClassEx is a platform with a repository of online games that can be modified to specific requirements. Atisha gets her students to play ClassEx games before formally introducing the economic concept they are designed to demonstrate. For example, before introducing students to the ‘tragedy of the commons’ Atisha had her students play two versions of a fishing game on ClassEx, one in which students can punish one another for overfishing and one with no punishments. Atisha showed the students the results of each scenario in a graph and opened this up to discussion, before explaining the tragedy of the commons. Atisha can also use the ClassEx platform to show the results of games played by other seminar groups, as well as students from other universities.

The aim of using ClassEx in this way is to demonstrate real-world applications for economic theory. By playing the game before formally introducing the concept behind it, Atisha’s students are able to first formulate their own concepts and strategies.

Lesson plan

  1. Atisha starts by selecting the games from the ClassEx platform that are the most relevant for her module.
  2. She then edits the games to her specific requirements. Some of these modifications require coding.
  3. During the seminar, Atisha includes a QR code on a PowerPoint to allow for students to log in to ClassEx more easily. This slide also includes instructions for how to play the game. Atisha does not at this point explain to the students which economic theory the game is intended to demonstrate so that the students play the game without any presuppositions.
  4. Atisha sets specific time limits for each stage of the game. ClassEx allows for Atisha to track the progress of the game in real-time on the ‘Instructor’s Screen’.
  5. Once the students have completed the game, Atisha shows the students a graph with the results from the game.
  6. Atisha discusses the results of the games with the students before formally introducing the theory to which it relates.

Tutor's observations

For the students, [using ClassEx] is very straightforward because they can see the instructions. For us, it requires a bit of trying to get used to the platform, but after that modifying games is quite simple. But it also depends on the level of modification, some people might want to write an entirely new game and that would require a much higher level of coding.

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EC320: Economics of Public Policy