At the University of North Carolina, economics is taught by aliens. Not the illegal kind but the “ET phone home” and “you’re one ugly motherf****r” kind … space aliens.
More specifically, for students who take ECON 201, microeconomics is taught by an online alien video game. It all begins with a movie about an alien ship flying to a post-apocalyptic Earth as spooky music plays in the background. A narrator then sets the scene:
“On the edge of the universe, a tiny speck of light catches the attention of a Sarbonian colony ship. But then the unexpected happens, and now the economics of survival is all that matters.”
The Sarbonian aliens were created by economics professor Jeff Sarbaum (we haven’t got a picture of him but we’d wager a bet that he looks like the cigarette smoking man from the X-Files). Professor Sarbaum said: “This is a game in which the students are literally immersed in a story. And they take on the role of a character. So all of the reading material, all of the content, all of the examinations and homework, if you will, are built inside the engine of the game … I believe we are the first ones to fully emerge students in a narrative story and treat the whole course as a game.”
The Sarbonians are from a planet in which there is no scarcity. After they crash-land on planet Earth, the economics students have to grapple with economic challenges such as making and distributing goods, and trading with other aliens.
In this microeconomics video game, a robot acts as an economics tutor, explaining concepts as the game goes along. Furthermore, as students proceed through the game, the alien characters speak more and more like economists. And to test his students, Professor Sarbaum built in various multiple choice tests for students to complete during different stages of the video game.
As for our view, we think this is a fantastic way to learn economics, especially micro. University lecturers and school teachers are taught to differentiate their teaching to incorporate their students’ different learning styles but this video game method of teaching takes it all to another level. If students take the game seriously then they can learn at their own pace and enjoy it at the same time, encouraging them to become active and independent learners.