Craig Brown of St Lawrence College, Ramsgate provides an
independent review on behalf of the EBEA.

Econland attempts to fill a gap in the very spartan land of macroeconomic simulation games.  Players are responsible for the fiscal and monetary policies of Econland (a land with a GDP similar in size to Puerto Rico) with the ultimate objective being to maximise the happiness of the population.

The simulation consists of seven rounds with each round representing a year.  At the start of each round players are aware of the data for each of four macroeconomic objectives; GDP growth, unemployment, inflation and the budget deficit.  They are also informed of the forecast economic growth for the world economy and the current consumer confidence index (for Econland).  After reflecting upon the current economic environment and forecast world growth, players must decide upon any changes they would like to make to four key areas; interest rate, income tax rate, corporation tax rate and government expenditure.  On submitting their decisions the state of Econland is revealed through updated results for real GDP growth, the unemployment rate, the inflation rate and the government’s budget.  Points are awarded on the basis of each macroeconomic outcome with more points being awarded for achieving strong economic growth, low unemployment, low inflation (whilst avoiding deflation) and a budget deficit which isn’t too high.  Each aspect of macroeconomic data is presented visually through an appropriate graph and ‘smilies’ (or not as the case may be) are used to provide for a rapid interpretation of the situation.  In addition to this an approval rating for the year is provided along with an average approval rating (with the aim being to maximise across the seven rounds).

Brief written feedback from a policy advisor is provided alongside the data such as ‘Economic growth is slow. This can lead to higher unemployment and lower consumer confidence’ and ‘You have kept government expenditure constant in nominal terms. Remember that, if inflation is positive, this amounts to a reduction in government expenditure in real terms (i.e. after adjusting for inflation)’.  This enables some reinforcement of macroeconomic concepts.  Participants have the opportunity to study more detailed reports which provide an overview of the components of real GDP, other macroeconomic data such as the exchange rate index, tax revenue and government debt and the economic environment, along with a reminder of the participant’s macroeconomic policy decisions for each round, and the economic outcomes.

An information page explains the game and there is a very clear visual outline of how to play it.  Participants can consult with a macroeconomic section to learn about key concepts such as aggregate demand and aggregate supply and there is a glossary of key terms.  There are also links to videos (about 3 to 4 minutes long) which provide a basic outline (with cartoon visuals) of fiscal policy, monetary policy, GDP, unemployment and inflation.  These are very general and not UK specific.  Participants have access to a weekly online newspaper, an online discussion forum and the opportunity to answer multiple choice questions to test their knowledge and understanding.  There are in fact three games or scenarios, each with different levels of macroeconomic volatility.

I feel that the developers deserve credit for producing a significantly more interactive way to experience macroeconomics.  My own feelings about the simulation is that the benefits largely depend upon how students experience the simulation.  If they play it alone and in their own time then it is difficult to see how there will be much learning as such, not least because it is difficult to deconstruct cause and effect relationships, whether in the real or virtual world, and the feedback provided with the game is relatively basic.  However with a teacher overseeing an initial brief followed by a period of play followed by a careful debrief, led by the pupils but with the teacher and students asking perceptive questions (perhaps with the teacher taking the role of a moderator), then this simulation can lead to a more interactive, enjoyable and effective learning experience.

The nineteen 17-18 year old students (second year A-Level Economists) who trialled the simulation with me reported that whilst they enjoyed the session (around 45 minutes) it is not a simulation that they would play themselves outside of class. They found it a little tedious after three games.  As their teacher, I found the opportunity to hear them justify their decision making insightful and it certainly provided me with the space to identify any misconceptions in their learning.  Students found themselves thinking more and I naturally found myself talking less and listening more.

Whilst the additional resources are a nice touch I believe that many of them do not add value to the simulation.  If I wanted to refer my students to a video or some background notes on macroeconomics or indeed a quiz, I would not necessarily be referring them to the resources within this simulation and so I feel the move towards a one-stop-shop as such is not the way to develop this site.

Econland functions on personal computers (Windows and Mac OS) as well as tablets and smartphones.  It may well be that the current pricing model of a fee per pupil will not be as appropriate or successful as a minimal institutional charge. The current price is $6 (assuming a minimum of 20 subscriptions) per subscriber for a four month period.  If there was a minimal institutional charge for one entire academic year then I might well be tempted.

The Econland site can be found at www.econland.com

Craig Brown
Head of Economics and Business
St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, Kent