The key point on how to make difficult economics easier to learn is simply to make people enjoy studying economics. If economics students would invest the same time on studying that they do on their hobbies and would value their studying time as much as they value their free time, then economics would be much more accessible. Nothing is too difficult if you are strongly motivated and invest enough time.
The difference between an obligation and a desire is just a matter of attitude. When we enjoy an activity, time goes fast, but when we are bored or uncomfortable, we feel the clock slowing down. So the crucial point would be changing the students’ perception on economics in order to ‘accelerate the clock’ and make them have fun and take pleasure in studying economics. And there is not anything better than a game to do so.
When we were children, we used to explore the world and reality through games, which made the process of discovering the world very fun. Playing with a ball we discovered the practical aspects of the Law of gravity, many years before encountering Sir Isaac Newton in our first physics book. Some years later we had our first contact with the world of the finances playing Monopoly, making considerable money when renting our flats and receiving interests from loans.
Why not rely on the same strategy to continue learning within the world of economics? The next proposal is a practical one, which is not aimed to substitute for the current means of study and assessment but rather to complement them.
When we were kids we learnt a lot of things from the real world through games, why not do so now?
At the International Politics department of Aberystwyth University, the crisis games are very popular among the students. In these role playing games, which are held twice per course, students are assigned to a team and have to cooperate with their teammates and negotiate with rivals. The goals to be achieved are set by the students themselves within the a context of a hypothetical political crisis posed by the academic staff involved in the simulation. The ‘gods’ act as referees of the game and such a role is developed by the lecturers.
These games are voluntary. To participate, students have to pay a certain price (around eighty pounds per person) which goes to cover the travel, accommodation, food and reading material. Because places are limited and these games are very popular, the places are often covered within the first few days.
This means that students perceive these simulations not as duties (even if they have to read information, study material and to research the topic to engage in the game) but instead are perceived as games and enjoyed as such. Therefore, since getting involved in such an activity in their free time, students are fulfilling a desire rather than an obligation.
If these kinds of simulations would have economic instead of political content, they could be very useful tools for teaching and learning economics. In the same way that lectures, tutorials, essays, and presentations are the normal ways of assessing students; these simulations could be used also as tools for evaluating students, and thus could be part of normal modules.
These simulations could be performed at micro or macro level. When designed from a microeconomic perspective, students would engage in teams as managers of firms, and they should compete among themselves and solve the different problems and questions that the economic actors have to face in the market: how many workers should I employ? Which salary should I pay my workers? At what price should I sell the goods? From a macroeconomic perspective, students could assume the role of governments when trying to achieve their economic goals: how should we tackle an increase of unemployment? What to do before a high rate of inflation? How to make an advantageous deal on International Trade with other governments taking in account one’s national economy? In both cases students would be applying the theoretical concepts previously learned.
Lecturers would assume the role of referees and should introduce variables to see how students react before certain economic problems: price fluctuations, high demand of certain products, and so on. In other words, lecturers should supervise and control the game and manage the market response to the decisions taken by the economic actors represented by the students.
Although part of these simulations could be developed during certain special lectures or seminars in which the main developments, events and decisions would be announced, through the use of the internet the students and the lecturer could develop the simulation out of the classroom, actualising the information or communicating the decisions taken.
I also think it would be possible to design a simulation which could integrate the micro and macro levels. Engaging in this kind of game, students would not only acquire the necessary knowledge to deal with the issues from the two perspectives, but could also perceive and understand how economics actors interact and interrelate at both levels.
Introducing such role playing games as normal assessments within the modules would make the study of economics easier because students would enjoy it much more. Such simulations have a strong potential to promote learning outcomes. Learning would be amusing, but also theory and practice would be integrated within the same exercise, since students would not be just passive spectators. This is worth encouraging, since one of the main problems of understanding economics is the lack of a practical view of the theory. And economic learning and teaching would be dynamic instead of static. Other extra benefits would be the development of team-work skills and taking decisions in limited periods of time, simulating a real economic scenario. The cost of implementing such measures as normal assessments would be really low in relation to the potential benefits.
When we were kids we learnt a lot of things from the real world through games, why not do so now? After all, there is still a little kid inside all of us.