A bull market: the upside of gaming

The ECON 201 game is a course in which students role-play as aliens.

Special to The Sun
Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 2:14 a.m.
The ECON 201 game is a course in which students role-play as aliens.
Supply and demand, savings, trade, sustainable growth. Normally, these terms alone don't sound like the makings of a great game. However, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's ECON 201 economics course shows that great games are all about context. For students, ECON 201 blends an exciting tale of alien creatures and the importance of microeconomics to create a course and a learning experience.
Many educators, students, game scholars, and game players are already well aware of the educational potential of video games. Despite their amazing potential, video games remain virtually untapped for formal education. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) is looking to help change this situation with their groundbreaking ECON 201.
Many educational games are already available. However, they're either games that teach specific skills like spelling or games used within a course context to teach skills or knowledge. The missing links are games that are courses in themselves, and games that include college-level material. UNCG's ECON 201 is one game that shows how to connect the educational gaming chain because ECON 201 is an online game that is also the course. As a game that is also a course, ECON 201 counts as college credit.
The ECON 201 game and course engages students by allowing them to role-play as aliens and explore an exciting futuristic world. In ECON 201, students play as the alien Quintin who crash lands on Earth along with other aliens. Students must survive and build a successful society by applying principles of microeconomics, including scarcity, savings, trade and sustainable growth. Public goods, minimum wage laws and more are all covered within a meaningful framework where students make decisions that impact their character's lives and world.
Instead of a traditional lecture course format, the ECON 201 course-game format requires students to practice applying their knowledge in different simulated situations. By requiring students to apply their new knowledge, the course-game ensures that students learn the knowledge in a meaningful manner.
Students are even tested within the course-game through puzzles that force students to show they possess and can apply their knowledge of microeconomics. The problem-solving tasks teach students how to logically approach economic decisions, making economics a way of thinking.
For students, the ECON 201 course-game is delivered over the Internet, like any other online course. The difference is in the way students interact with the course, facilitated by the course-game's major content advisor and award-winning instructor Dr. Jeff Sarbaum. Sarbaum's extensive teaching experience taught him that students had grown to want more interaction and more visual excitement in their courses. It's no surprise that ECON 201 addresses just these needs by allowing students to interact with and see the impact of economics.
Despite the fact that ECON 201 has taken far more time and energy than most normal college courses would require to develop, Sarbaum and the UNCG team recognize the value of simulated problems for learning. Plus, hopefully the course will some day allow for a more independent student learning experience. That could mean more time where students worked and learned on their own, freeing up instructor time to discuss the larger issues and implications.
While Sarbaum says UNCG isn't looking to expand the course quite yet, the UNCG team has already recognized that ECON 201 is teaching far more than economics. In fact, the student challenges are inherently interdisciplinary, covering biology, history and anthropology with students making ethical decisions and facing emergencies. Even more important than the course material is that students in the course were motivated to learn more, with some students not wanting the course to end. Compelling courses like ECON 201 teach students far more than the course material alone. Hopefully many more courses like it will soon be available across university campuses.
  • Gaming around Gainesville For more information on UNCG's ECON 201, visit http://econ201.uncg.edu. To register or for information on other UNCG online courses, visit UNCG's iCampus Web portal: http://icampus.uncg.edu.
    For those looking for entertainment near, but not necessarily with, education, the UF's Reitz Union has a small arcade and bowling alley for gamers who like to play socially.
    Gainesville has two live action role-playing (LARP) groups. See their Web sites for more information: http://domains.owbn.org/staug/ or http://domains.owbn.org/gnvmid/ Laurie Taylor can be reached at laurientaylor@gmail.com.
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