Friday, February 17, 2012

Shuffling the cards at AUN

I was sitting very comfortably, going from 5 classes and 4 preps* last semester down to 3 classes and 2 preps. I have been told by non-economists with more teaching experience that last semester was yoeman's work. I was ready for some sanity and some research time. I did (and do) feel sorry for my colleagues who had more classes to make that happen. But for the most part, I was looking forward to a much easier semester.

For about two weeks.

In order to accommodate Economist #7's arrival mid-semester (this week!) I traded one of my repeated classes for a new class: Game Theory.

I am very much of three minds about of this.
The first mind says this was not an improvement - adding a new prep, midway, for something I have not had time to plan for. I can see the time I'm no longer spending on my other two classes to prepare for this newcomer. The second mind says this may not be an improvement for me, but it really is best for the department. The third mind says

I forgot just how much I enjoy game theory. I relish it. It was easily my favorite topic in undergrad and from the first year economics core. Joy says, "I've never forgotten!"

My mother tried to convince me I should be a game theorist. Sadly, there is a difference between playing games and programming them. The game theorists I have known have been theorists rather than empiricists. So it hasn't happened. Yet. [I'm starting to ponder the benefits of replicating some results previously obtained only or mostly with WEIRD people - white, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic.]

But now I get to teach it. I get to relieve all the fun games. Tell the stories. Put my students through prisoner's dilemmas, coordination games, logic problems (an added bonus) and all the rest. I started by showing how the political economy debates on the fuel subsidy were really game theory. Joy: "They were all playing with each other's heads."

We play games in class as quizzes. I enjoy tweaking the games very slightly between rounds and watching people behave differently. Sitting next to each other, they cooperate. When I tell them they will play against a random person in the class, they defect and act selfishly. I have three semi-imaginary people they may also end up playing: Economan (always acts like economic theory dictates); Dr. Watson (I'm a nice guy and will always choose a strategy to give them the best score possible); or Batman's nemesis Two Face who flips a coin to see if he acts like me or Economan. Joy has heard me cackle and chortle more than once preparing for the class.

* - Preps are the number of courses I have to prepare for. Last semester I prepared for 4 different courses and I taught one of them to two groups of students making 5 classes.