Thursday, August 5, 2021

Course allocation at the Technical University of Munich, by Martin Bichler and Soeren Merting

 Here's a paper describing a recently designed and implemented course assignment system at the Technical University of Munich:

Randomized Scheduling Mechanisms: Assigning Course Seats in a Fair and Efficient Way  by Martin Bichler and Soeren Merting

Abstract: Course assignment is a very widespread problem in education and beyond. Typically, students have preferences for bundles of course seats or course schedules over the week, but courses have limited capacity. This is an interesting and frequent application of distributed scheduling, where payments cannot be used to implement the efficient allocation. First-Come First-Served (FCFS) is simple and the most widely used assignment rule in practice, but it leads to inefficient outcomes and envy in the allocation. It was recently shown that randomized economic mechanisms that do not require monetary transfers can have attractive economic and computational properties, which were considered incompatible for deterministic alternatives. We use a mixed-methods design including field and laboratory experiments, a survey, and simulations to analyze such randomized mechanisms empirically. Implementing randomized scheduling in the field also required us to develop a solution to a new preference elicitation problem that is central to these mechanisms. The results of our empirical work shed light on the advantages that randomized scheduling mechanisms have over FCFS in the field, but also on the challenges. The resulting course assignment system was adopted permanently and is now used to solve course assignment problems with more than 1700 students every year.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Course allocation at Eötvös Loránd University, by Attila Rusznák, Péter Biró, and Rita Fleiner)

At Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, there's a course allocation system that gives rise to intense course exchange after its official conclusion (some of which may be planned in advance). Here's a description and analysis:

Seat transfers in the course allocation mechanism of Eötvös Loránd University  by A. Rusznák, P. Biró and R. Fleiner, 2021 IEEE 15th International Symposium on Applied Computational Intelligence and Informatics (SACI), 2021, pp. 503-508, doi: 10.1109/SACI51354.2021.9465548.

"Abstract: We initiate the study of the course allocation mechanism of the largest Hungarian university, ELTE, based on a real data provided for three semesters in 2018-2019. Besides introducing their priority based mechanism and the structure of their course registration data provided, we analyse a special issue coming from a students’ survey related to seat transfer. We identify the seat transfer actions in the last stage of the mechanism from the data that we describe in a transfer graph, and we analyse this network observing interesting patterns."

"In Hungary the course allocations are conducted at every major university by the same administrative system, called Neptun, and most universities use a simple first-come-first-served method. However, the largest university in Hungary, ELTE, uses a three-phase priority-based method [12]. In the first phase the students can submit their most preferred bundles, and the university admission may adjust the quotas of the courses based on these initial inputs. The second phase is the most important, where the students are ranked at each course based on a scoring system and lottery for breaking ties. They have a week to select their best bundles, but the mechanism is dynamic, the students can be unsure whether they will really get admission to a course. After finalising the assignment based on priorities and quotas, in the third phase of the mechanism a simple first-come-first-served method is used to allocate the remaining open slots. This final round also facilitates the informal seat transfers and swaps, a topic that we focus on in this paper. We conducted an online survey at ELTE sent to all registered students, and we received more than 3000 replies in total, so we could identify the main practices and issues for this priority based mechanism. We also received the complete course allocation record from their Neptun system for three recent semesters in 2018-2019. We will use this rich data to check the issues and strategies reported in the students’ survey, starting with the analysis of the seat transfers and swaps in the last stage of the mechanism.


"One of most critical comments was concerned with the rejection of the students even from their main courses that fits in their ideal curriculum. Some students mentioned that they could only get admission to some of their important courses by getting a favour from another student, who had higher priority at that course, so could take it in the second stage, and then transfer the course to them in the third stage. The transfer can be observed in the data as the withdrawal of a student and an almost immediate registration by another student. In this paper we initiate the study of this issue by studying the course allocation record of ELTE for the years of 2018-2019, that we describe in the next section."

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Some history of the National Resident Matching Program

 Here's a short history of the resident match, including the recent merger of MD and DO student applicants, and some thoughts about current issues.

Acad Med. 2021 Aug; 96(8): 1116–1119.

The Single Match: Reflections on the National Resident Matching Program’s Sustained Partnership With Learners  by Zaid I. Almarzooq, MBBCh, Heather A Lillemoe, MD, Ebony White-Manigault, MPH, Thomas Wickham, DO, MPH, and Laurie S. Curtin, PhD

Here's the concluding paragraph:

"The NRMP has come a long way, but we recognize that the residency selection process still is fraught with stress and uncertainty, albeit for reasons different from those that prompted creation of the Match. Application inflation, debt, and a disproportionate reliance on licensure exam scores have contributed to a climate that makes the transition to residency perhaps as stressful as when the Match was created nearly 70 years ago. 18,19 However, as the NRMP moves beyond achievement of the Single Match milestone and we reflect on the organization’s history of responding to the needs of its constituents, we believe the NRMP will continue to evolve and identify innovative and meaningful ways to address learner needs. We hope learners of all kinds value that commitment and stand ready to support the NRMP’s efforts to continually improve the transition to residency."

Monday, August 2, 2021

Coffee and civilization, at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem

“Coffee – East and West” is the title of the new exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem." Here's the story from Haaretz:

How Coffee Revolutionized Jerusalem Social Life in the 16th Century  by Ronit Vered

"In the mid-16th century, complaints from residents of Jerusalem reached the palace of the sultan in Istanbul: As a result of the new custom of visiting coffeehouses, which was spreading among the city’s Muslim denizens, many of them were not praying five times a day, as prescribed by Islam.


"Those first cafés – others were opened around the same time in Gaza, Ramle, Nablus, Damascus and Aleppo – operated all day and all night, a sensational innovation in the pre-electricity age, when people usually went to bed early.


"The presence of the clients, some of whom would be seated in the street, attracted peddlers, who offered skewers of roasted meat, another nuisance and source of dirt. Tobacco was another new pleasure that the authorities and clerics tried to fight – again unsuccessfully – and the smoke of water pipes, sometimes mingled with the aroma of opium, became an inseparable part of the new coffeehouse experience. And because all the clients of these new institutions were men, for whom the public space, both religious and secular, was exclusively reserved in the Ottoman Empire – the coffeehouses were also accused of encouraging homosexuality and of generating an atmosphere liable to give rise to sexual harassment.


"“The story of this country is singular, because two coffee traditions coexisted here over time: Ottoman-Turkish-Arabian coffee that is cooked; and Western coffee, which is filtered and prepared by a variety of methods and in different utensils,” says Yahel Shefer, the exhibition’s co-curator (with Noa Berger), who spent the past five years studying the subject and collecting rare items associated with the material culture that sprang up side by side with the social etiquette that accompanies coffee consumption.


Coffee, she adds, “also gives rise to a unique institution dedicated to it, which becomes the most popular gathering place in the world. In Palestine, coffeehouses were established in the Ottoman-Arab tradition but also in the European-Western tradition, which was brought by the [German] Templers and by Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. In the early 20th century, people in Zion Square in Jerusalem would drink Turkish-Arabian coffee in the morning, and in the afternoon hang out in the famous Café Europa.”


"The owners of the Jerusalem cafés opened by the mid-16th century were for the most part Muslims, though they were frequented by Jews and Christians as well. Jewish clerics joined their Muslim colleagues in expressing misgivings about the popular new beverage and the social institution that was springing up around it.

“The first Hebrew mention of a coffeehouse appears in Safed in the 1560s,” says Prof. Yaron Ben-Naeh from the department of Jewish history at the Hebrew University. “The Safed café is mentioned as having a dubious reputation, or in the words of the text, it was a place of ‘frivolous company.’ The religious arbiters of Judaism, like their Muslim counterparts, are undecided about whether it is permitted to drink coffee. Isaac Luria, the holy ‘Ari’ [“Lion,” his epithet], the greatest of the kabbalists, rules that drinking coffee is forbidden, but the believers simply ignore it. No one abides by the prohibitions.”


"Early evidence for the institutionalization of a local coffee culture is the existence of the coffee-sellers’ guild, which appears in the records of the Muslim court in Jerusalem in 1590."

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Market design, redesigned (in startups and university labs)

Market design is evolving, and new ways of organizing it are being explored. 

In my post yesterday, I talked about the early work on school choice that Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Parag Pathak, Tayfun Sonmez and I did under the auspices of Boston schools Superintendent Tom Payzant. The market design by economists in Boston, as with the earlier successful effort in New York City, was conducted as part of our research work as professors.  Not a penny changed hands, and we all felt good about that.

But if there was a flaw in that working arrangement, it was that no contracts were signed, and so as staff turnover took place in school districts, and the individuals we had dealt with departed, the district's institutional memory eroded, and they didn't always remember to turn to us when difficulties arose that we could have helped them with. Partly to address that, and to have at least one person able to devote time to approaching school districts, Parag and Atila and I supported Neil Dorosin in founding the non-profit  Institute for Innovation in Public School Choice, which during its lifetime helped school choice in a number of American cities, including Denver, New Orleans, and Washington D.C.

Parag and Atila went on to be founding members of MIT's School Effectiveness and Inequality Intiative, which just this week was "relaunched" with a different team as MIT Blueprint Labs, which aims to build on MIT's strengths not just in school choice but in a much wider area of market design and policy analysis, and to be a lab with a large staff and extensive fundraising:

Launch announcement of MIT Blueprint Labs


Professor Parag Pathak
Faculty Director
MIT SEII / Blueprint Labs
Research spotlight: K-12 education


Professor Joshua Angrist
Faculty Director
MIT SEII / Blueprint Labs
Research spotlight: Higher education and the workforce


Professor Nikhil Agarwal
Faculty Director, Health Care
MIT SEII / Blueprint Labs
Research spotlight: Health care

Eryn Heying
Executive Director
MIT SEII / Blueprint Labs



In a related development, Parag has cofounded a new for-profit Ed-tech startup called Avela, that plans to spread the technologies he's helped pioneer.  A for-profit firm has some funding, employment and investing opportunities that aren't available to non-profits or university labs, let alone to teams of professors organized informally. And as in the Blueprint Lab, they hope that the tools they will develop will be readily applicable to quite a broad range of matching markets and market designs.

These various efforts look to me like design experiments themselves, in the search for sustainable ways of making market design a permanent part of not only the research that economists do, but of the practical effects we hope to foster.

Observing all this from the West Coast, and over several decades, I can't help noticing that these institutional changes have been accompanied by team changes, and shifting collaborations among market designers.  

There are also a growing number of different kinds of economists (and computer scientists, operations researchers and businesses) involved in designing and assessing markets, and market design has not only changed markets, but changed the way economists work, in many small and large ways.  Econometricians and development economists have led the way in organizing large labs, and market design may be heading in that direction as well. Big and small tech firms have also started to think of market design as among their core competencies, and as a discipline they should be hiring.
Here in California, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that my colleague Paul Milgrom has for a long time engaged in auction design through his for-profit company Auctionomics.
And Susan Athey is the faculty director of a big lab at Stanford using different technologies in other areas of market design:  the Golub Capital Social Impact Lab, which describes itself this way:

"We use digital technology and social science research to improve the effectiveness of leading social sector organizations.

"Based out of Stanford GSB, the lab is a research initiative of affiliated academics and staff, as well as researchers and students, who are passionate about conducting research that guides and improves the process of innovation.

"Research Approach

We collaborate with a wide range of organizations, from large firms to smaller startups, for-profits to nonprofits, and NGOs to governments, to conduct research. Then, we apply and disseminate our insights to achieve social impact at large scale."

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Tom Payzant, Boston schools superintendent who reformed school choice, dies at 80

 Tom Payzant played a critical role in transforming Boston's school choice from an immediate acceptance algorithm that exposed students and families to complex strategic risk when navigating the system, to a deferred acceptance algorithm that simplified their participation. As Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, Tom came to understand those issues well, and acted on them.

Here's his obit in the Boston Globe.

Thomas Payzant, whose education vision lifted Boston’s schools, dies at 80, By Bryan Marquard

and here's the statement from Boston Public Schools:


Here's a pic I took of Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Parag Pathak, and Tayfun Sonmez when we met with Payzant and his colleagues at Boston Public School headquarters, during the years we worked with BPS, starting around 2003.

Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Parag Pathak and Tayfun Sonmez at Boston Public School headquarters

Here's a paper that came out of those meetings, describing the deliberations that ultimately led BPS to adopt a deferred acceptance algorithm design for it's school choice system.

Over the course of those years, I was privileged to watch Parag evolve from a super smart young grad student to being a leader in the design of school choice.

I'll post tomorrow about some of Parag's latest efforts to bring the work associated with the design and evaluation of school choice, and market design more generally, into the world of startup companies and big university labs.

Friday, July 30, 2021

The Art of Experimental Economics: Twenty Top Papers Reviewed , edited by Gary Charness and Mark Pingle

 Here's a forthcoming book that provides a unique and entertaining review of twenty influential papers in experimental economics. Katie Coffman and I wrote the review of the classic 2007 paper on gender and competition by Niederle and Vesterlund.

The Art of Experimental Economics: Twenty Top Papers Reviewed  Edited By Gary Charness, Mark Pingle  Forthcoming by Routledge

Item will ship after August 27, 2021  ISBN 9780367894306

Chapter 1: Introducing 20 Top Papers and their Reviewers  Gary Charness and Mark Pingle

Chapter 2: An Experimental Study of Competitive Market Behavior (by Vernon L. Smith)  Reviewed by Charles A. Holt

Chapter 3: The Strategy Method as an Instrument for the Exploration of Limited Rationality in Oligopoly Game Behavior (by Reinhard Selten)  Reviewed by Claudia Keser and Hartmut Kliemt

Chapter 4: An Experimental Analysis of Ultimatum Bargaining (by Werner Güth, Rolf Schmittberger and Bernd Schwarze)  Reviewed by Brit Grosskopf and Rosemarie Nagel

Chapter 5: The Winner’s Curse and Public Information in Common Value Auctions (by John H. Kagel and Dan Levin)  Reviewed by Gary Charness

Chapter 6: Group Size Effects in Public Goods Provision: The Voluntary Contributions Mechanism (by R. Mark Isaac and James M. Walker)  Reviewed by James Andreoni

Chapter 7:  Rational Expectations and the Aggregation of Diverse Information in Laboratory Security Markets (by Charles R. Plott and Shyam Sunder)    Reviewed by R. Mark Isaac

Chapter 8: Experimental Tests of the Endowment Effect and the Coase Theorem (by Daniel Kahneman, Jack L. Knetsch, Richard H. Thaler)   Reviewed by John A. List

Chapter 9: Bargaining and Market Behavior in Jerusalem, Ljubljana, Pittsburgh and Tokyo: An Experimental Study (by Alvin E. Roth, Vesna Prasnikar, Masahiro Okuno-Fujiwara and Shmuel Zamir) Reviewed by Armin Falk

Chapter 10: Unraveling in Guessing Games: An Experimental Study (by Rosemarie Nagel)  Reviewed by John H. Kagel and Antonio Penta

Chapter 11: Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History (by Joyce Berg, John Dickhaut, and Kevin McCabe) Reviewed by Vernon L. Smith

Chapter 12: Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments (by Ernst Fehr and Simon Gachter)  Reviewed by Yan Chen

Chapter 13: A Fine is a Price (by Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini)  Reviewed by Alex Imas

Chapter 14: Giving according to GARP: An Experimental Test of the Consistency of Preferences for Altruism (by James Andreoni and John Miller)  Reviewed by Catherine Eckel

Chapter 15: Risk Aversion and Incentive Effects (by Charles Holt and Susan Laury)  Reviewed by Kevin McCabe

Chapter 16: Does market experience eliminate market anomalies? (by John A. List) Reviewed by Matthias Sutter

Chapter 17: Promises and Partnership (by Gary Charness and Martin Dufwenberg)  Reviewed by Urs Fischbacher and Franziska Föllmi-Heusi

Chapter 18: The Hidden Costs of Control (by Armin Falk and Michael Kosfeld)  Reviewed by Laura Razzolini and Rachel Croson

Chapter 19: Do Women Shy Away from Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much? (by Muriel Niederle and Lise Vesterlund)  Reviewed by Katherine B. Coffman and Alvin E. Roth 

Chapter 20: Group Identity and Social Preferences (by Yan Chen and Sherry X. Li)  Reviewed by Marie Claire Villeval 

Chapter 21: Lies in Disguise—An Experimental Study on Cheating (by Urs Fischbacher and Franziska Föllmi-Heusi)  Reviewed by Uri Gneezy and Marta Serra-Garcia


Here's my Foreword to the book:

 Twenty carefully chosen papers in experimental economics, reviewed and put in context by veteran experimenters, provide an excellent, close-up introduction to the richness and diversity of the field, and where it is coming from. These twenty papers appeared over a period of half a century, from 1962 to 2013, during which economic experiments went from being quite rare to taking their place among the standard tools of economics.

When John Kagel and I edited the Handbook of Experimental Economics, volumes 1 and 2 (1995 and 2016), we encouraged the chapter authors not to try to tell readers how to do good experiments, but to show them. And so it is with these papers: there are lots of ways to do good experiments, and here is a collection of twenty that have been influential. The reviews make clear that a successful, influential experiment is part of a scientific conversation that began well before the experiment was designed and conducted, and continued well after it was published and replicated. These conversations aren’t only among experimenters, nor are they only among economists: experiments add to scientific conversations of all sorts, answering some questions and raising others, often questions that couldn’t even be posed with equal precision in naturally occurring environments.   

Reader, beware. After reading this volume, you will want to read more, and, your curiosity aroused, may find yourself on the slippery slope of designing and conducting your own experiments.

Alvin E. Roth, Stanford University, December 2020.


Kagel, J.H. and A.E. Roth (editors) Handbook of Experimental Economics, Princeton University Press, 1995.

Kagel, J.H. and A.E. Roth (editors) Handbook of Experimental Economics, Volume 2, Princeton University Press, 2016.