My latest favorite blogger is Lanny Arvan. (Thanks Martha!) Aside from being a fallen economist turned instructional technologist, he’s a fascinating and deep blogger. One of his (relatively) recent posts struck a chord as it related to my interest in student metacognition and motivation, both extrinsic and intrinsic.
Beginning in the 16th paragraph of the post, he discusses the use of (on-line) quizzes as a way of helping students get regular, low-stakes assessment of their performance.
Lanny argues that quizzing forces students to engage with the course and put in the effort they otherwise wouldn’t, especially in non-major courses, and as such is “a triumph of extrinsic assessment.” But therein lies the problem (recall Harry Truman’s desire for a one-armed economist):
But many educators, among them the psychologist Jerome Bruner and Ken Bain, author of What the Best College Teachers Do, emphasize an appeal to students via intrinsic motivation, to wit curiosity, a desire to understand the puzzles that real life circumstances pose from the perspective of disciplinary expertise.
Lanny goes on to suggest that intrinsic motivation enters into several aspects of instruction: what students are asked to read, what topics are discussed in class, and “clever assignments.” He describes one of the latter as follows:
The first assignment I gave to those honors kids was for each of them to identify Principles of Economics textbooks that are in the top 10 by market share, with each student receiving 10 points of credit per book if they were the sole provider of the title and no credit at all if the title was offered up by another classmate as well. The assignment worked like a charm the first time I did this, when I had 15 students. The outcome was that they identified all books in the top 10 and then some, one student earned 10 points but otherwise all the titles that were submitted came in duplicates, and then they had to puzzle over why they put in effort but (except for that one student) got no credit for their travails. This assignment was my introduction to the core idea that economics is about incentives. It was a great introduction. I had them hooked for the rest of course.
How cool is that? This is an order of magnitude better than the way I introduce this topic, because it takes what students would otherwise perceive as a fact or finding, boring in the abstract, and turns it into a mystery to be explored.
How can I built exercises like this into my courses this semester? Stay tuned. I’ll have more to say about this.