The Handbook for Economics Lecturers

Homework experiments are simply classroom experiments that are meant to be played at home instead of during class hours. The most basic is a simple one question and answer format with feedback and summary of the results discussed in class. There is an elegant website by Ariel Rubinstein that is designed especially for this purpose. A slightly more complicated homework experiment is to run a more advanced individual choice experiment with some immediate feedback (for instance we have a computerised Monty Hall problem that is played several times). Finally, it is possible to have students play against a fictitious player such as a robot playing a particular strategy or against prior human players. The first example we know of using this option is Charlie Holt with his traveller’s dilemma experiment available on Veconlab. We now offer for most of our experiments ‘quick log-in’ versions where you play against a past group of participants.

Another innovation by Charlie Holt is running the standard multi-player experiments by having students log on from home at a specific time in the evening. There are also experiments (such as prediction markets) that can be run over several weeks. In fact, such homework experiments (such as the Iowa political stock market) predate the web.

Advantages

The main advantage of a homework experiment is that it can save lecture and tutorial time. There is very little hassle and one does not have to worry about time limits. They provide great flexibility to both students and lecturers.

Disadvantages

Overall, the lecturer has little control with homework experiments. There is no guarantee the student is the one playing the game. If the experiment requires interaction among subjects, there is no means to stop collusion. If it is an individual choice experiment, one student can advise another. Without additional incentives the overall participation rate can be low. Though for some experiments we have had the opposite problem of some students playing the game several times in order to beat the previous performance. Currently there is still a limited variety of home-run experiments which every student can do by him or herself. One can invest the extra co-ordination of running group experiments at a specific time. Even with these one needs to keep the group size small so one player does not hold the rest up (toilet breaks are problematic here).

Helpful hints for homework experiments

  • Use some sort of incentive for participation.