Students Play Monopoly to Learn Key Finance Concepts

February 12, 2020

“I’m taking the penguin. Do you want the dinosaur?”

“What is that, a T-Rex? Yeah, I’ll take that one.”

This might not be the kind of conversation you’d expect to overhear in a Haslam College of Business classroom, but it’s exactly what students were saying on a recent Thursday in their Financial Statement Analysis (FINC 420) class. Assistant professor Ashleigh Eldemire-Poindexter created a new learning module using the Monopoly® board game to help students gain a deeper comprehension of balance sheets and cash flow. 

Eldemire-Poindexter says that when teaching these key course concepts in the past, she has observed that they can be difficult to understand for students who haven’t had much experience with working and managing their own bills, much less managing or dissecting a company’s financial activities.

“I wanted to figure out a way to give them a physical sense of cash that’s coming in, cash that’s going out, and the difference between expenditures and expenses,” Eldemire-Poindexter says. “The goal of introducing Monopoly game-play into the course is to give the students some hands-on practice making business decisions and translating their activities and outcomes into key financial statements, in a low-stakes and familiar setting.”

She says she was inspired to incorporate game-play into her class after participating in a Teaching and Learning Innovation workshop series on gaming and role-play last year. She got the idea to use Monopoly from Bowling Green University professor W. David Albrecht’s Monopoly-based game for accounting classes. 

A Teaching Support Award from Teaching and Learning Innovation enabled Eldemire-Poindexter to obtain the Monopoly boards and other supplies for the activity. Using the game-module framework Albrecht developed, she adapted the exercise to make it more applicable to her course.

“I’ve scaled it to make it more difficult, in a way,” she says, “since for this class, particularly, we need to understand debt. That’s not a typical thing for Monopoly.” While the exercise utilizes a standard Monopoly board, Eldemire-Poindexter’s rules incorporate additional variables such as lines of credit, long-term debt and property depreciation into the game.

The students, in groups of three or four per game board, begin with a set amount of Monopoly money representing their equity investment and roll the dice to proceed around the board. Because the outcome of each roll is random and requires the players to respond accordingly, the dice help to simulate real-world business scenarios, Eldemire-Poindexter says. 

“When the game begins and the entire board is up for grabs, the randomness of the dice most closely simulates the uncertainty of securing investments with real earnings potential. It is possible to go several turns without landing on an available property,” she notes. “As the game goes on, this randomness shifts toward uncertainty about operating performance: what’s the likelihood that anyone lands on your investments and pays rent? How much should you develop each property? How much liquidity do you need to pay rent expenses to other players and remain competitive?”

For each “fiscal year” (one full lap around the board), players must produce a list of their transactions, beginning- and ending-of-period balance sheets and statements of income and cash flows. They then confer with their partners to review the year’s results and use standard financial metrics and ratios to determine capital allocations for the following year.

This is Eldemire-Poindexter’s first semester incorporating a full-scale version of the exercise into her curriculum. She previously did a test run with about 25 students in Phillip Daves' FINC 420 honors section. This semester, she is using the game module in three sections of FINC 420, totaling about 150 students. She says she hopes that as word gets out about the activity, more students will become interested in taking the course and more faculty will consider incorporate gaming and role-playing into their business classes. 

“Unlike the hands-on labs in the sciences or engineering, business classes are spreadsheet and PowerPoint heavy, which can make it challenging to truly grasp important concepts,” she says. “Experiential learning through game-play and other tangible activities can help students better connect with and retain abstract concepts.”

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CONTACT:

Stacy Estep, business writer/publicist (865-974-7881, sestep3@utk.edu)