Conducting the Experiment and Collecting Data

Initial Publication Date: June 24, 2010

Click image to enlarge
To see how this works, here is an example of a classroom experiment that might be used in an economics, political science or any other course that looks at how seemingly innocent individual actions can cause bad things to happen when taken collectively. It is designed to help students see that there can be negative external consequences for their decisions and allows them to create and evaluate policies that help reduce these consequences. In Energy and the Environment: The Driving Game each student is given information on their own costs and benefits of driving or taking the bus to school. For every two students who drive, one random student in the class becomes "sick" and loses all of their points for that period of the experiment.

Suppose that in this case the instructor asked students to read over a description of the experiment before class so that they are familiar with what they will be asked to do. Then, in each round of the experiment the instructor will guide students through the following steps:
a) Start Round
  1. Pass out written instructions and "log sheets" if it is the first round of the experiment or if instructions have changed substantially
  2. Review the instructions for that particular round
  3. Pass out individual information on costs and benefits of driving vs. taking the bus (if these have changed since the previous round
  4. Ask if there are any questions
b) Students Choose "Drive" or "Take Bus"
  1. Students look at their private information and decide whether to drive or take the bus
  2. They record this information on their log sheets
c) Instructor Collects Results
  1. By show of hands, the instructor counts how many are choosing to drive and how many to take the bus
  2. In large classes it is helpful to have an assistant help to count (this is a good role for a student who comes in late and misses the start of the experiment)
  3. Students record the results on their log sheets
d) Number of "sick" students is determined
  1. In this experiment the number of "sick" people is half the number of people who drive
  2. Having put all of the students names onto slips of paper in a box before the start of the game, the instructor draws out one name for each "sick" student. Students who are "sick" record this on their log sheets and adjust their earnings for that period of the game to zero.
  3. The instructor leads a discussion of this period's result
    • What happened this period and why?
    • How is this different from what you expected (after first period) or from what happened last period?
    • (After the game has gone on several periods) How could we change the game to get a different result?
Go back to a) Start the next round, changing the student's costs and benefits or the rules of the game (perhaps to reflect a policy change from a student).