In this edition of “Conversations with Educators” we got to sit down with Bob Gazzale, a Principles of Microeconomics Professor at the University of Toronto. A long-time user of in-class experiments, Bob Gazzale is a big advocate of the low setup cost of MobLab. Here’s what he has to say about his journey through economics, experience with MobLab, and advice for new MobLab users.
1. Can you tell us more about your background? How did you come to be an economics professor?
I went to Georgetown University with the intention of taking, and hopefully passing, the Foreign Service exam. Economics was a required course and I was smitten pretty much from the get-go. Economics just made sense to me in a way that was not the case for others in my study groups. Of course, when it came to foreign languages, well, let’s just say that it became clear that the Foreign Service might not have been the best fit for me.
2. Were MobLab’s games your first foray into bringing in-class experiments into your lectures, or had you previously used experiments in class?
I have been running games and experiments in my classes for as long as I have been teaching. In grad school, as part of my research, I started running human-subject experiments. Like many experimentalists, it was a natural transition to running games, markets, and experiments in my courses.
I started at a small liberal arts college so most of my in-class experiments were pencil-and-paper. Running around the classroom, collecting choice slips, compiling results—it was actually kind of fun—although a little tiring. When I moved to the University of Toronto, my intro classes went from 40 to 500 students. Pencil and paper was no longer feasible, and I was thus rather thrilled when I ran into the MobLab booth at a CTREE conference.
3. When you begin a new semester, how do you introduce MobLab to you students?
In the first class, when giving a quick overview of the syllabus, I tell my students that MobLab will enable them to participate in games and markets and respond to in-class survey questions. I also make sure to point out that it is required. Otherwise, I point them to the how-to-enroll-in-MobLab document on Canvas.
My one bit of genius is having a one-question survey which students must complete before our first MobLab session in order to earn a 1/4-point bonus. In this way, pretty much everyone has signed up for MobLab and joined the class beforehand.
4. Do you have a favorite MobLab game to play with students?
In terms of student engagement, I am a big fan of Push-Pull. I love the fact that just from my students’ exclamations, I can tell when a “cooperative” student has a partner who defects.
In terms of a game that really clarifies a concept students are often troubled with, it would be Production, Entry & Exit. The idea that in a competitive market equilibrium, there are a specific number of firms in the market but the equilibrium does not specify which of the potential firms will be in the market, is one that many students struggle with. It is really nice for me to say “I really don’t know which firms will be in the market, but you guys seemed to figure it out in the game . . .”
5. What advice would you give to a new instructor who is using MobLab for the first time?
First, take the time to clearly go over game instructions. In my experience, students almost always sincerely participate, but the choices they make will be rather “noisy” if they do not fully understand how their choices affect the points they earn.
Second, make sure to have some activities were students take the time to reflect on and synthesize their game participation. Research has shown that pretty much all of the benefits of games and experiments in the classroom comes from this process of post-game reflection.
Bob, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.