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  • Level up: Chambers College Ph.D. student teaches economic principles through video games

Level up: Chambers College Ph.D. student teaches economic principles through video games

Noah Trudeau, a third-year Economics Ph.D. student in West Virginia University’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics, is finding new and innovative ways to reach his students through virtual learning. 

Noah Trudeau

In addition to his regular office hours, Trudeau is offering his time via Twitch, a live-streaming platform for video gamers. The site allows users to watch others play games and also chat with other gamers around the world.

“I just told my students, ‘Hey, I'm just going to be playing video games. Don't feel like you can't interrupt me. This is obviously casual time,” Trudeau said. “You can come in and just drop in the chat and say something like, ‘Hey, I'm having trouble with a homework question. Can you go over that real quick?’”

Trudeau started this idea in early March, before even anticipating his classes moving to an online-only format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What I do now is, I post on my academic Twitter and to my friends on Facebook and say, ‘I’m going to go live, and I’m going to be playing this game. Come in and we can talk about economics.’”

One of the games he’s been into recently is Borderlands 3 — an action role-playing first-person shooter game developed by Gearbox Software.

“It's cartoon-y and comedic, but people are like, ‘Where's the economics,’” Trudeau said. “It’s all over every video game. There are tons of different weapons and manufacturers, and they're all competing. They all have to have their unique thing — quirks to them that makes those manufacturers interesting.”

Not all of the conversations, however, involve video games.

In one session, Trudeau said they group ended up chatting about people buying up toilet paper amid the pandemic.

“Why do we see people buying all the toilet paper in a panic?” a student asked.

“I pointed out that we have price gouging laws, which means you can't raise the price of something in time of crisis,” Trudeau said. “What that does is, it signals to the public that there's an amount, an availability of that thing that's above what you see in the store. Keeping the price the same says that we have more in the back or there's more in the warehouse.”

Of course, when that item runs out, you often see predatory pricing.

“We talked about this for probably 20 to 30 minutes,” Trudeau said. “I had clicked away from my video game, I had Photoshop pulled up on my stream and I'm sitting here with my little digital tablet drawing graphs for supply and demand.” 

Other conversations have included topics such as how the current crisis will affect the economy and the stock market.

Trudeau is currently in his third year of the Ph.D. program and had originally planned on entering the job market this fall; however, with current events, that may be postponed a year. Fortunately, though, Trudeau said having to adapt to this online format has helped to make him a better professor.

“I'm trying to make economics accessible because often, as economists, we do our research and we publish in our journals, but we don't talk about it to like the mass public,” he said. “That's, I think, one of the best things about being like an econ teacher is I'm teaching to undergrad students and I'm trying to communicate incredibly deep theories in simple ways.”

He’s also learned a lot more about the technical side of online learning, such as lighting and audio techniques best for webcam videos, as well as Photoshop skills.

“I think I'm okay at still bringing the energy and excitement,” he said. “I still talk a lot with my hands to a webcam, but it's hard doing a recorded video lecture because you don't get any actual feedback. At least in a classroom, even if they're dead silent, I can see people's faces like making confused faces or something.” 

Ultimately, Trudeau just hopes that his new way of teaching is helping to take some of the stress away that students are currently feeling during the transition.

“That's what it's doing for me. This is something that's a little more routine,” he said. “I'm playing this for stress release. There’s comedy, I’m making jokes, so I hope that it’s helping them to relax a little bit.”

Anyone interested in joining Trudeau’s unique “office hours” can join here.

-WVU-

bm/04/17/20

CONTACT: Brittany Murray
Senior Writer, Office of Strategic Communications
John Chambers College of Business and Economics
304.293.5927; brittany.murray@mail.wvu.edu

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