Economics students enrolled in large lecture courses rarely have the opportunity to interact with course content. Too often the students attend lectures, take notes, and generate similar responses on quizzes, but because of the lack of student interaction, do not gain a deep understanding of the material or the ability to analyze and relate multiple concepts. The outcomes are often short-term knowledge and comprehension gains, rather than the ability to analyze and interpret complex economic events. A recent solution to this problem in economics education has been to incorporate classroom experiments into teaching principles of economics, a strategy that has been shown to improve student learning (Gremmen & Potters, 1997). In addition, a growing body of instructional technology research indicates that simulated experiences allow students to develop more advanced mental models of course concepts (Land & Hannafin, 1997; Snir & Smith, 1995; White & Frederiksen, 2000), and to transfer these models to help solve related problems (Jacobson & Spiro, 1995).
The problem with classroom exercises/simulations is they are not possible to conduct in large lecture courses. Since reducing class size is impractical, a large number of graduate student assistants are required to supervise recitation sections. Our experiments leverage the developing wireless expertise at Virginia Tech to make it possible to conduct these simulations in large lecture classes. This will allow the improved quality of education to be maintained at a reduced cost.
Wireless technology itself has clear advantages over paper-and-pencil simulations. Because of the speed and flexibility of the wireless system, multiple simulations can be run in the large lecture classroom, allowing students to switch roles and experience the same market from different perspectives (e.g., high-cost seller, low-cost seller). It also allows instructors to answer student questions by immediately conducting a new simulation to illustrate the answer. Students can engage in "what if" reasoning, proposing their own simulations, and then facilitating these new market simulations to correspond with student hypotheses (e.g., "everyone who bought high at 9, now try selling low at 4 to test Keith's prediction.") In addition, the wireless system will capture the data from the exercises. Students can then access the data on a dedicated website, manipulating the data using standard spreadsheet and statistical software to test hypotheses. The website can be used to disseminate additional out-of-class exercises to reinforce and extend the lessons of the classroom simulations.