Active Learning Through Classroom Experiments


LaPorchia Collins
Professor of Practice, Department of Economics

In Fall 2016, students in two Introduction to Microeconomics courses used MobLab to conduct in-class economic experiments. MobLab is a web-based tool that allows students to interact with each other in real time using a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The experiments are designed by randomly assigning students to a role in a hypothetical market.


For example, in one experiment students are randomly assigned roles as buyers and sellers in a market for oranges, with sellers aiming to earn as much as possible while selling to buyers aiming to pay as little as possible. As extrinsic motivation, high-performing buyers and sellers earn candy—somehow this component of the experiment always increases engagement. Through the experiment, students gain an understanding of how the interactions of self-interested buyers and sellers determine prices and quantities sold in competitive markets.

The experiments progress in complexity. The most useful experiments, as indicated by students’ comments, are those that cause students great frustration. For example, in one scenario in which the government imposes a price ceiling (a maximum sale price below the original market price), students designated as sellers are quickly frustrated by dwindling profits. In another, students compete as profit-maximizing firms with differing costs of production, deciding whether to enter the market and, after entering, how much to produce. High production costs prevent some students from entering the market at all. I vividly remember walking over to a student who appeared to have trouble with the internet connection, only to find he was frustrated because he kept losing money—he failed to account for production costs, a lesson learned.

In Spring 2017, we will explore alternative platforms for facilitating classroom experiments, aiming to find the most effective tool for engaging our students in economics.

Screen shot of web based simulation tool
School of Liberal Arts introductory microeconomics courses use the web-based simulation tool MobLab to experiment in a hypothetical market. This screenshot of the tool shows the user interface of the production, entry, and exit game.