A “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” inspired activity

We explain how we applied the “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” concept to one of our online accounting modules.

An interactive movie that allows you to shape the story with your choices and lets you immerse in it. An inspiring idea, right? That’s what Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is all about. It’s a film that lets you select different options, influencing the plot, the characters, and the ending.

It has been one of the most memorable movie experiences for many of us. You actually feel you’re part of the plot. Of course, some people want to watch the movie rather than be hit by constant decision prompts. We, however, thought it was truly a masterpiece and left a big impression on us. So much so that it inspired us to apply the concept to an online accounting module, Financial Decision Making and Analysis. And our students love it!

Daniele devised this ingenious plan and designed an activity that takes students on a journey of making funding decisions for a new business. Its development was possible with the involvement of a vibrant team of learning designers, visual and audio experts, and developers here at The Open University.

The activity begins by asking students to choose from two characters with different backgrounds. By identifying with a character, students enjoy a more immersive learning experience. The students see a series of options leading to different outcomes based on their selections. To guide them, we integrated a virtual “business adviser” who pops up to explain their “wrong” decisions and gives them feedback on their selected options.

Here is the screenshot of how the game starts:

Once students select their character, they are shown a business idea.

“You will be developing a device to convert traditional diesel-powered engines to run on recycled vegetable oil. According to the last reports by experts, the device is expected to be especially useful in emerging countries where it could take relatively more time for alternative technologies (e.g. fully electric engines) to be adopted.”

Students have to decide how to fund their business idea. They must choose from different options: bank loans, reward-based crowdfunding, or equity crowdfunding. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, and the students must weigh them carefully.

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If they choose an unsuitable option for their business idea, they receive a “call” from the virtual adviser. She explains the consequences of their selection and asks them to rethink their decision. For example, in the screenshot below, the student chose a reward-based crowdfunding option, which is inappropriate for this case.

Once they select the correct answer, the students progress to the next step. So, unlike in the movie, where the storyline allows for multiple endings, the student cannot continue on the “wrong” path until the end. We did not aim to create multiple endings but rather to guide the students to the best funding option for the business idea. They still get to experience the consequences of their choices through feedback from a virtual adviser. Based on their decisions, they can also see how different scenarios and outcomes unfold.

Although different from the movie experience, students immerse themselves in a realistic scenario. They see that their decisions matter and learn about different aspects of financial decision-making, such as risk, return, application, decision-making, and more. Students gain insights into the trade-offs involved in making funding decisions. They also develop critical and creative thinking skills by evaluating options and their consequences.

Game-based learning, or gamification, is an excellent way to make learning more engaging and rewarding. It also helps students to contextualise or frame problems. In our experience, these activities motivate students to learn and apply their knowledge in a fun and interactive way. Here is what some of our students said:

“I liked that you could choose a player and that you had been prompted to ‘rethink’ your option so you could explore other avenues of finance to achieve and innovate . . . I liked that it gave you that gentle nudge to perhaps consider the other options.”

“For me, the scenario was interesting and engaging. I didn’t know much about the various models of financing, so it introduced me to some useful ideas.”

“I liked the idea of presenting a problem with various options and, depending on the option, how well the decision made went. But also, the ability to rethink an option chosen to deliver a better option/decision.”

“I liked that it explained in detail but in simple terms what option was the best and why, and also which options were unsuitable and why. It made sense and was explained in simple terms that even a beginner could understand the logic.”

Updated and expanded versions of this promising activity will feature in various units of the new Financial Management module we are currently developing. In addition, other modules in our faculty have been adopting this template to develop similar scenario-based learning resources.

We hope our experience might inspire you to try something similar and share your feedback with us.

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