Category Archives: Research

Feedback Economics of Colleges under Stress

This project explores microeconomics of higher education by conceptualizing a tuition-dependent college as a complex service system. We develop a system dynamics model that captures key causal interrelationships and multiple feedback effects between faculty, facilities, tuition revenue, costs, reputation, and outcomes. We then use this college model to explore how operations of academic institutions are affected in two situations: a decline of college applications and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continue reading

Toward the Service View of Education

This project applies the service science framework to higher education. To understand the reasons behind the success and failure of academic programs, we build on the previous literature that conceptualizes education as a service delivered by universities which are complex systems. We introduce the Service Canvas as a tool for identifying components of academic programs. It can be used for strategic planning by university leadership and program directors. As a case study, the project examines the extension of entrepreneurship education across disciplines and divisions at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a technological university in Massachusetts.

Continue reading

Economic Origins of the Sicilian Mafia

During the nineteenth century, Sicily underwent a series of political and land reforms that led to dismantling of large land ownership and culminated in the unification with the Italian state in 1861. But the new Italian government was ineffective at enforcing the rule of law on the island. Banditry and a general sense of lawlessness proliferated. In that environment, the mafia emerged as a private response to the inadequate protection by the state. The mafia offered private protection from bandits to landowners who could not rely on protection and enforcement of property rights by the state.

Continue reading

Promoting Systems Thinking Skills in Middle Schools with Game-Based Structural Debriefing

Earlier research has shown that school children can learn systems thinking skills by playing video games. But simply playing a game without a systematic pedagogical approach is insufficient because the game remains a “black box” to students even if they implicitly understand how the system operates. Working with STEM teachers, a game development company and a non-profit, we designed and piloted game-based curricula to teach systems thinking skills. We call this approach Game-Based Structural Debriefing (GBSD).

Continue reading

Improving Instructional Simulation with Structural Debriefing

(1/1/14 – 12/31/15), PIs: Oleg V. Pavlov (WPI), Khalid Saeed (WPI), Lawrence W. Robinson (Cornell University

Research shows that learning and task performance improve when participants in management exercises understand the structure of the system they control. However, the majority of business simulators are “black-boxes.” This article introduces structural debriefing, which is a debriefing activity aimed at helping students learn about causal relationships, feedbacks, accumulations and delays within a black-box simulation. A structural debriefing can be prepared and facilitated by following the Structural Debriefing Protocol. A pilot study was conducted in which undergraduate students participated in a structural debriefing of The LITTLEFIELD TECHNOLOGIES, a popular simulation for teaching principles of operations management. The students were able to complete all eight steps of a structural debriefing, but required considerable time (three academic terms) to do so. Not every instructional simulation will require all the steps or such a large time commitment. The successful completion of the pilot study demonstrates that structural debriefing is a useful debriefing technique. However, to be effective, the scope and format of a structural debriefing activity must suit practical and pedagogical considerations.

Continue reading

Asset Price Dynamics with Heterogeneous Beliefs and Local Network Interactions

PIs: Valentyn Panchenko (University of New South Wales), Sergiy Gerasymchuk (ING Group), and Oleg V. Pavlov (WPI)

This project investigates the effects of network topologies on asset price dynamics. We introduce network communications into a simple asset pricing model with heterogeneous beliefs. The agents may switch between several belief types according to their performance. The performance information is available to the agents only locally through their own experience and the experience of other agents directly connected to them. We model the communications with four commonly considered network topologies: a fully connected network, a regular lattice, a small world, and a random graph. The results show that the network topologies influence asset price dynamics in terms of the regions of stability, amplitudes of fluctuations and statistical properties.

Continue reading

Farmers, Bandits and Soldiers: A Generic System for Addressing Peace Agendas

PIs: Khalid Saeed (WPI), Oleg Pavlov (WPI), Jeanine Skorinko (WPI), and Alexander Smith (WPI)

We propose a generic model that explains why political systems tend toward certain outcomes. The model identifies possible economic and psychological paths toward change in a metaphorical political economy consisting of farmers, bandits and soldiers. In addition to economic factors, we also consider how two psychological factors, broadly categorized as group identity and exposure to violence, affect the behavior of metaphorical agents. We find that though outcomes tend to be similar with and without the psychological influences, the psychological influences accelerate the adjustment process and create additional policy space for interventions. A methodological contribution of the paper also is the use of summary performance measures represented as phase plots that have the potential to be used with advantage in system dynamics analyses.

Continue reading