|Classroom Expernomics: Volume 12 (Fall 2003)|
Streamlining Production Possibilities Frontier Experiments
College of Charleston
Numerous classroom experiments involve the production of fictional goods. For example, Anderson and Chasey (1999) describe an experiment in which students produce two different products, widgets and whajamas, while Neral (1993) describes an experiment in which students produce widgets. In both of these experiments the fictional good is created with student labor and a variety of office supplies, including paper, pens or pencils, and staplers. While these experiments tend to be both entertaining and enlightening for the student participants, they are time consuming to prepare and make an enormous mess! Fortunately, there is a way to maintain the educational content of these experiments without creating all the waste.
A simple production sheet copied repeatedly can replace the staplers and reams of (hopefully recycled) paper called for by both Anderson and Chasey (1999) and Neral (1993). Instead of producing a widget by manipulating a piece of paper, I have my students create a widget by drawing it on a specially formatted form. An example of this form is presented in Figure 1.
The widget and the gzot are figures that must be drawn on the boxes shown on a form similar to the one in Figure 2.
When a student starts to “produce” widgets or gzots, his/her form will look something like Figure 3.
I use these forms for an experiment demonstrating comparative advantage. To “stack the deck” and build in a comparative advantage for some students, I add some of the lines to their pages, as can be seen in Figure 4. Other students are given completely blank forms as in Figure 2.
To illustrate diminishing marginal returns one could add another input to the production process, e.g., a highlighter. Now a widget has to be produced by pen or pencil, but some of the lines must be highlighted, as in Figure 5. The standard diminishing marginal returns will set in if you limit the number of highlighters to one, but add labor to the production process. (I generally put students in groups of 6 and have them compete—the group that produces the most gets some sort of prize. The entire group shares one highlighter. In round 1, only one student is allowed to produce widgets, in round 2, two students, and so forth. Anderson (1986) describes a similar demonstration.)
Using these drawn widgets and gzots allows the instructor to bring only a stack of papers to class, much like the instructor might bring a stack of exams or some other handout. One sheet represents one round, so it is easy to keep track of production across rounds. Each student can be given a stack of forms such that the stack has one sheet for each round the instructor plans to run. In this way, the instructor is freed from having to carry staplers (or other bulky supplies) and from having to clean up a classroom full of widgets at the end of the demonstration.
Anderson, Curt L., 1986, "A Student-Participation Demonstration: The Short-Run Production Process," Journal of Economic Education 17:1 (Winter): 57-60.
Anderson, David A. and James Chasey. (1999). “A Production Possibilities Frontier Experiment: Links and Smiles.” Classroom Expernomics (http://www.marietta.edu/~delemeeg/expernom.html), 8.
Neral, John. (1993). “Widget Production in the Classroom.” Classroom Expernomics (http://www.marietta.edu/~delemeeg/expernom.html), 2.
1. Neral (1993) cuts each 8 ½” by 11” piece of paper in half, reducing waste, but increasing instructor effort.
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