I know the concept of games and learning has been beaten almost to death, but Donna's post (I love that link) reminded me of a post I read the other day about games, application, and learning.
We learn more effectively when the education has some sort of applicable value to us, when the learning is meaningful. The experience is even more valuable if we actually enjoy the learning process. Games and virtual worlds can help make education more meaningful and fun.
Games and virtual worlds make learning meaningful when students can see the results of their actions. Players are applying their knowledge, so it’s not just learning for the sake of knowing, but putting the learning to use. The feeling of immersion in a game or virtual world can lead the player to a sense of inclusiveness and empowerment, because the player’s actions matter in the game world. The amount of control that the player has in the game world is also correlated with her sense of value. If the player’s actions have little to no bearing on the game’s outcomes, then the sense of meaning is lost.
I haven't seen any good economics games lately (although there was an old "Whack the Economist" patterned after "Whack a Mole" that I got a kick out of and surely allowed my students to blow off some stress). I used to use an economics jokes website to provide a joke a day for my class -- I actually received lots of positive feedback on that. This is a reminder that it's time to redo my first assessment finally -- I've been talking about turning it into a scavenger hunt for semesters now.