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2016 September 20

Trick for encouraging cooperation

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 15:26
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Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, provided an interesting technique for encouraging cooperation in his business-school classes (a culture noted for cut-throat competition between students):

How could I get students to help one another?

Four years ago, I found a way. The most difficult section of my final exam was multiple choice. I told the students that they could pick the one question about which they were most unsure, and write down the name of a classmate who might know the answer — the equivalent of a lifeline on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” If the classmate got it right, they would both earn the points.

Essentially, I was trying to build a collaborative culture with a reward system where one person’s success benefited someone else. It was a small offering — two points on a 120-point exam — but it made a big difference. More students started studying together in small groups, then the groups started pooling their knowledge.

You can read more about his attempts to encourage student cooperation in Why We Should Stop Grading Students on a Curve, published in the New York Times.

I don’t think I can use this exact technique, as none of the courses I teach involve exams—all are graded on the written reports that students write.  I could use it for homework, I suppose, but the overhead of checking other student’s responses might increase the turnaround time for homework grading.  I’m also already seeing more cooperation on the homework than I really want.

Furthermore, students quickly learn who the best student in the class is, and would just point to him or her, with no increase in useful cooperation.  So I think this technique would only work in student cultures that currently have a high degree of secretiveness and competition, not in already collaborative cultures.

1 Comment »

  1. “More cooperation on the homework than I really want.” Ha! Been there, seen that. A few thoughts:

    1) On the plus side, that sort of “cooperation” does make it easier to grade written homework! You only have to grade one of them carefully. The others all get the exact same marks because they make the same mistakes.

    Of course, that only applies if it is low stakes so the “cooperation” does not tread too deeply into honor code issues. Even then, for low stakes homework, I usually grade a group effort a bit more strictly, as if it should be twice as good compared to a solo effort. (When it does raise ethical issues, I treat both of them as having plagiarized, because giving the text of your report to another student is as bad as using it.) But …

    2) I have been known to add a comment (on both papers, even if I’m very confident that I know who copied from whom) suggesting to BOTH authors that they should check the work of the person they are copying from. I hope that sends an interesting message to the copyee, by suggesting that s/he might be the poorer student. I’ve also amused myself by telling one student to see the paper of the other student for an explanation of the errors I found.

    3) Some of those problems go away with low-stakes computer-graded work when the grade comes from an exam. The ones who just copy a formula and plug in the numbers will fail the exam, often in a spectacular fashion. A similar approach can be used with your kind of homework. One colleague doesn’t grade the actual homework (although he does collect it). What he does is allow them to use their homework as notes while taking a quiz, which is how they earn a mark for what they did. The quiz is on the same topic but different enough that the pure copyist doesn’t have time to translate the one solution into the new problem context, resulting in a failure. You might think about how you could use that approach.

    Comment by CCPhysicist — 2016 September 24 @ 18:11 | Reply

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