The Death of Curiosity? Part 3

A final review of the previous semester, this time on my course about environmental politics and economic development. I tweak the design and content of this course every year, probably because it’s my favorite topic to teach (some prior examples of this here and here).

As in the other undergraduate course that I taught, I administered my own course evaluation. Sample is 18 out of 22 students. Here are the results for the questions with a 5-point scale of “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”:

  • I now have a better understanding of the causes of poverty and economic growth: 4.3
  • I now have a better understanding of the relationship between economic development, environmental change, and risk: 4.4
  • The game design project helped me learn about environmental vulnerability and risk analysis: 3.6
  • I am now better able to use risk analysis as a decision making tool in my own life: 4.0
  • More courses at this university should include training in skills like risk analysis: 4.2

The relatively low score for the third question matched my observations. As in previous iterations of the course, teams of students designed games. This year I specified that the games needed to teach players about the environmental vulnerabilities faced by business owners. I devoted portions of some classes to presentations about system design and failure, and there were many writing assignments about the relationships between economic development, climate change, and risk. Yet, as in prior years, the games students built had little relevance to the design objective. In terms of mechanics, they mainly resembled Monopoly or Life.

I’m taking this as a sign that I need to impose even more limitations on the creativity students can but don’t exercise on this project. Next year I’m going to require that the games:

  • Be played on a board that is a map of the local community.
  • Have player roles that focus on a specific industry or institution threatened by climate change — such as tourism, food, or housing.
  • Contain mechanics that take into account the system components of place, people, and processes.

The good news is that I was completely surprised by answers to the evaluation’s “My favorite reading in the course?” Eleven of the respondents named the novel How to Get Filthy Rich In a Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid. Comments about the book included:

  • Clearly written and entertaining.
  • Nice to be able to connect with a character throughout the story.
  • Explained the timeline of a developing country through a perspective that I could visualize.
  • Unique and thought provoking.

I’ll definitely be including this novel in the course next year.