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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Duo Creates Innovative Way to Teach Students About Stock Market

By Betsy Hnath

If necessity is the mother of invention, Andrew Cohen knows exactly why he needed to create the game Future Traders. But he could hardly have predicted the path or people it would cause to intersect in his life.

"I was teaching a Wall Street 101 class over the summer, and after three-and-a-half hours of lecture my students' eyes were glazing over," he said. "I needed a way to capture their attention, to get them engaged."

Cohen tapped into his youth, and his love of board games, to illustrate concepts of valuation and market trading: challenging theories to absorb even without the hours of material beforehand.

"As a kid, I loved the game Monopoly. It taught me a lot about buying and selling real estate and what it means to own property, and I was entertained at the same time," he said. "I thought 'I wonder if I could create something similar to teach my students about the stock market?' I wanted to give them the information, but do it in a fun way."

What emerged was the prototype for Future Traders, a game incorporating the complexities and language of a market like the New York Stock Exchange into an exciting, interactive pastime.

Players take turns as traders and market-makers, reacting to each other and to breaking news, all of which impact the value of their individual stocks. Winners are determined by who has the most cash on hand at the end of several, five-minute rounds of trading.

His first version consisted only of index cards with hand-written numbers, but Cohen's class caught on immediately, and couldn't get enough.

"My students, who could barely stay awake, wanted to stay late just to play the game. I knew I had created something pretty special," Cohen said.

As a part of Old Dominion University's entrepreneurship initiative, the Entsminger Fellows (made possible by a generous gift from alumnus Lee Entsminger '74) are comprised of faculty recruited from throughout the University to promote entrepreneurship across all of its academic colleges.

Cohen was designated a 2017 Entsminger Fellow. In his first meeting, he cited his newly-developed Future Traders as a project he'd like to explore. That's also when he met 2016 Entsminger Fellow and associate English professor, Kevin Moberly.

The high-energy and background in finance of Cohen's were in direct contrast to Moberly's quiet, deliberate manner and a career centered on words.

Yet, Moberly's experience with game design, culture and game-play rhetoric, made him a logical connection for Cohen's project, and what at first started as an advisory role soon became a partnership.

"At first, I was just going to give him advice," Moberly said. "But with my sense as a game player, I thought Future Traders was a really great idea. I wanted to be more involved."

Moberly confirmed his hunch the first time he saw students play the game live.

"We saw evidence right away that students were engaged," he said. "And they used the same terminology in the game that Andrew introduced in class, which is a great sign."

With Moberly's input, Future Traders evolved to printed playing cards, replete with logo, and an added desktop component to replace some of the mental math Cohen and Moberly saw slowing down the paper version.

"It was taking longer to tally the game than to play it. We wanted students to do some of the mental math of statistics, but also wanted to mimic the rush of a trading floor."

Cohen and Moberly recognized the potential in a Future Traders app.

"An app is faster, it's portable and it provides immediate feedback," Moberly said. "And the Future Traders feedback loop is smaller. In one hour, you could play 10 games and get a ton of knowledge."

Upon the advice of Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, Cohen and Moberly reached out to Janet Brunelle, a computer science senior lecturer, and enlisted senior-level students to develop an app prototype as a graded final project.

The men are now eager to join forces with other departments on campus as Future Traders continues to evolve.

"I'd love to see a professional writing class get involved with this project," Moberly said. "And graphic design for sure."

"I actually want to create an entire class based on this game alone," Cohen added.

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