• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Bribing, Incentivizing

of how to get your class to pay attention.


July 8, 2015

This week I have been following some conversations taking place about screen addiction. Jane Brody wrote about the issue in her New York Times column, and a new documentary called Web Junkie, about teens in China addicted to video games, airs next week on PBS. As I write this, my son is in the room next door addictively playing Minecraft on his computer. Next week, we are sending him to a Minecraft camp, where he will still be on a screen all day, but I get to pay for him to do that in an officially sanctioned “camp.” It makes sense that these conversations are coming up during the summer, when children often have more free time to spend on screens, but I’ve also been viewing some interesting discussions on Facebook with faculty about how they are going to handle their technology policies this fall semester.

It seems that people tend to be divided into two camps: those that have given up (or are adapting to the new technology environment, which sounds better) and let their students use the screens, and those that enact strict rules and policing policies to prevent students from using screens while in the classroom. I have found myself sitting in both camps in the past. This summer, however, I am noticing that those in the former camp are thinking about reverting to a no-technology policy because they think it is interfering with students’ ability to focus and reflect. Clay Shirky, a Professor at NYU who specializes in emerging media technologies, wrote an interesting piece last fall about his new policy to ban all screens in his classes. He even made an intriguing analogy comparing technology in a classroom to second-hand smoke. However, many faculty have responded that banning technology does not work but only creates a deceptive culture in which students slyly sneak their technology use in class.

So, I have a new suggestion. Why not incentivize the policy a bit? What if, in the fall, I bring a basket into my classroom, and any student who chooses to put his or her device(s) in it for the class period will earn a point in each class towards a portion of the final grade? Now, I know that some people are going to say that I’m encouraging us to reward something that should be a given — listening — and maybe that is true, but maybe it’s worth it? Everyone likes to feel they are getting something for nothing, so this may be just the ticket to help students focus and have them feel that there is something in it for them (beyond, you know, actually learning).

I know that education should be their true reward, but that doesn’t seem to be working anymore. And, how is it any different than my reward system for my own children? I mean, they should go to bed when they are tired but since they won’t, that sticker reward chart always does the trick: they get to sleep, and I get to watch Orange is the New Black, so everyone is a winner. The thought of being able to teach an entire class without asking a student to put some device away or watching a student text (sometimes to another student across the room) seems worth a few grade points. My next questions are: how much of a percentage should I offer, and what heading should I label this policy in the syllabus?


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