January 17, 2008


Tyler Cowen's book emphasizes incentives. I'm not too surprised, he's an economist. I'm curious about your thoughts with respect to the incentives I've chosen for this course. Of course, my goal in choosing incentives is to have you accomplish real learning. Please tell you what you think about the incentives you see in this course. And, if you've taken other courses from me in the past, perhaps you would also comment on the incentives you found in other courses, and how you would compare and contrast incentives across courses.


Roman Kozhevnikov said...

I wonder how many people actually read every single post in order to award their 3 bonus points. I also wonder how many people voted for themselves regardless of whether or not they actually thought their post was the best. It seems that the bonus point incentive would be more fair if people submitted their vote for highlight 1 and then another vote for highlight 2. Then, the runoff vote at the end for the 20 points would just be between the two winners. And, I don't think people should be able to vote for themselves at all.

The idea for bonus points is pretty cool. I have never had a class that let the students award bonus points, but it's not much of an incentive for me to write better essays, because I don't think the "players" are reading everything and being as fair as they should be. Also, the people who get the 20 bonus points probably got an A anyway, so they don't really need the bonus points!

I do really like the bonus points for participation. Those points are definitely incentives for me to read and contribute more than I probably would have otherwise. I think this is because I trust a teacher more to be fair than my other classmates.

It's not that I think other students are lying or cheating. I just think that this course is too accelerated for everybody to read everything (and not get paid for it or have their reputation on the line like a professor does). I will admit that I didn't read every post either, but I tried my best.

I'm not sure if this made complete sense, but I hope you all get my point, and I hope I'm not the only one who feels this way!

Douglas Loeper said...

I have to agree with Roman on a large portion of his response. If we think as economists then we should believe that we are going to act in accordance with our self-interests. If you're allowed to vote for yourself then you'll vote for yourself as there is no incentive for voting for another person’s article. This would be an example of the class participating in a prisoner’s dilemma game where everyone would move toward Nash’s equilibrium (I’m not sure if this is completely accurate, since there is equally no reward for cooperation, but I don’t have a better way of explaining it). However, since I’m sure you received some responses that weren’t just for their own article; we’ve already discovered that not everyone acts this way explicitly. Considering this point we then believe that we all are able to give true feedback and not just a self interested response. I'd also find it highly unlikely that each of us gave every single blog full consideration, not out of disdain but as Roman pointed out mostly from time constraints. For this part I read the blogs as they were posted and made notes to myself since I knew I had to vote – and I still went back over them and took a while to vote. If I found a blog especially interesting then I spent more time on it, sometimes commented. If I did not find a blog particularly interesting I skimmed over the content to see if anything caught my eye.

If you wanted to ensure that everyone participated and voted then I think the best way to do this is attach some value to each incentive, however the forms of bonus points or extra credit might not be the best way to accomplish this. Bonus points would seem to be primarily attractive to those who need them not those who are already getting high marks in the class, thereby being no real incentive to participate if you’re already doing well, which doubly hurts because if you’re doing well you probably have a good grasp on the concepts and your input would be especially rewarding to those who are struggling. Also the concept of bonus points brings on a certain stigma of it being extra work, and that might not be conducive to all. If you say bonus points are added for participation then you’re sending the signal that participation is ‘extra’, not compulsory. Likewise if you’re adding incentives to effect ‘real learning’ through participation and the sharing of ideas then the same set of signal’s apply.

Personally here is what I would do with both incentives offered (best/worst voting/participation). Make participation part of the overall grade (I think to be truly effectual you’d have to make it at least 10%, i.e. a full letter grade and explain in detail that it’s a very real part of the scoring). Of that participation if there are certain things that you want to ensure are done then make them part of the participation grade, such as the voting, let’s say the participation grade is 100 pts. For example, make response to the voting 10 pts for each response of the total 100 pts possible. Also, make the voting system set up to where you can’t vote for yourself. If you want to take it to the step to help prevent collusion then add elements of Roman’s system, where you vote for the top 2 or 3 blogs then have a vote off where you can vote for yourself, given this anyone who would collude would find that there are no future favors for their collusion and might not be so enticed to do so. I like the idea of bonus points however maybe they can be attached to something that is truly a ‘bonus’ that provides an outstanding learning experience. Perhaps additional bonus points added for information regarding examples of ‘Inner’ and ‘Undercover’ economics from the web, where the students are rewarded for researching and sharing (links w/ comments for example) information they uncover and find interesting – I think the student’s editorial in this case would be key, otherwise you’ll have some that’ll just post links. This goes beyond the scope of the class but Is still related to the concept of the class and posting the information shares it with everyone else helping to increase real learning, also I bet you’d get some really interesting examples this way because you’re giving control of the content to the student which in itself is an incentive.

There are going to be some cases where you can’t provide an incentive that is adequate for the desired effect, but I think with this being a 300 level class and hopefully most of the participants are taking the class because they want to and not because they have to they are motivated enough to at least complete all of the components of the class. Attach the incentives to these portions and I’d predict you get better results. If nothing else it would probably make for a good case study?

Jenna Cluley said...

I think that this class has been relatively successful. I have done more reading and preparing for it than I have for many other courses. I do think that the incentives that you used were fair. I know for me I have just enough time to do the readings, and the papers, and I only check my emails once about every two days, and the blog almost only when I was ready to post. Based on the course sylabus my main concern was due dates and just keeping up with those. I did try to participate in the voting, and contrary to what some may believe or did themselves, I read the essays.