Using Economic Games to Improve Instruction

Can a teacher's performance on an economic game help researchers to understand how she will perform in the classroom? Petrus Bosa Layarda (NYUAD '15), who is majoring in economics, spent last summer working on a project that aims to answer this question. The project is sponsored by Ras Al Khaimah's Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, and is led by NYUAD Assistant Professor of Economics Chetan Dave.

Layarda chose to spend last summer in the UAE working with Dave and the Al Qasimi Foundation because of the internship's high level of responsibility. "I knew that I'd have the opportunity to be involved in the whole process. Not just doing data collection — but actually being involved in the experiments, preparing the experiments, and running the experiments."

Layarda spent eight weeks with the Foundation and when he wasn't working on experiments, he honed his research and writing skills. A typical non-experiment day would consist of reading literature relevant to the field and compiling annotated bibliographies. He also contributed to formal literature reviews.

"Everything I did intensively for those eight weeks in Ras Al Khaimah will be extremely useful when I begin my senior Capstone project. I now have experience reading academic articles, I'm comfortable writing reviews of relevant literature, and I understand where researchers in the field disagree," Layarda said.

And his experience this past summer may lead to further work after he graduates from NYUAD. "Being involved in a real, onsite research project allowed me to put all the ideas that we learn about in the classroom into practice," Layarda explained. "Working with Professor Dave and the researchers at the Foundation encouraged me to consider a career in research."

Moreover, Layarda's experience wasn't just about academics. "Working in Ras Al Khaimah, I got to see what the UAE is like outside of Abu Dhabi and Dubai," he said. "Ras Al Khaimah is smaller than Abu Dhabi, which made it easier for me to interact with members of the community."

  • Internships open doors to 'hidden' UAE for overseas students (The National)
  • The Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research website

This article originally appeared in NYUAD's 2013-14 Research Report (13MB PDF).

The goal of the project is to find ways to improve English-language instruction in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and in the region. While most studies of teacher performance consider credentials (such as degrees and certifications), years of experience, and other "objective" criteria, this project is different. "Professor Dave thought there might be some variables that aren't commonly used to judge teacher performance," Layarda said. "And that's where the economics comes in."

"We invited more than 100 teachers to our lab in Ras Al Khaimah and asked them to work through a series of simulated economic games," he said. "The games measured teachers' sense of altruism, risk tolerance, and time preference," which, explained Layarda, are "proxy variables" for other behavioral traits that cannot be measured directly. Games like these have been used for research in economics, but have not been widely used in education research.

Teacher performance on these games was then compared to the results of their students' final exam grades. The results of the experiments are not yet published, but the duo already has plans to run more experiments using a similar methodology in the future.

Being involved in a real, onsite research project allowed me to put all the ideas that we learn about in the classroom into practice.

Petrus Bosa Layarda, NYUAD Class of 2015