The game theory exam story

less than 1 minute read

UCLA animal behavior professor Peter Nonacs describes his experiment in learning by doing: “Cheating to Learn: How a UCLA professor gamed a game theory midterm”.

So last quarter I had an intriguing thought while preparing my Game Theory lectures. Tests are really just measures of how the Education Game is proceeding. Professors test to measure their success at teaching, and students take tests in order to get a good grade. Might these goals be maximized simultaneously? What if I let the students write their own rules for the test-taking game? Allow them to do everything we would normally call cheating?

Naturally, nearly the entire class decided to work together.

This is what I consistently find when I do game theory experiments with my classes. Students who work hard and contribute always tolerate free riders. When I explicitly point out the apparent unfairness of the situation, students sometimes articulate frustration with free riders, but shrug their shoulders. If Nonacs thinks he has taught them something new, he should sit in more classes.