Time Banking II: We Are a Team

In between getting my camera ready copy together for ICER, and I’m still pumped that our paper got into ICER, I’ve been delving deep into the literature and the psychological and pedagogical background that I need to confirm before I go too much further with Time Banking. (I first mentioned this concept here. The term is already used in a general sense to talk about an exchange of services based on time as a currency. I use it here within the framework of student assignment submission.) I’m not just reading in CS Ed, of course, but across Ed, sociology, psychology and just about anywhere else where people have started to consider time as a manageable or tradable asset. I thought I’d take this post to outline some of the most important concepts behind it and provide some rationale for decisions that have already been made. I’ve already posted the guidelines for this, which can be distilled down to “not all events can be banked”, “additional load must be low”, “pragmatic limits apply”, “bad (cheating or gaming) behaviour is actively discouraged” and “it must integrate with our existing systems”.

Time/Bank currency design by Lawrence Weiner. Photo by Julieta Aranda. (Question for Nick – do I need something like this for my students?)

Our goal, of course, is to get students to think about their time management in a more holistic fashion and to start thinking about their future activities sometime sooner the 24 hours before the due date. Rather than students being receivers and storers of deadline, can we allow them to construct their own timelines, within a set of limits? (Ben-Ari, 1998, “Constructivism in Computer Science Education”, SIGCSE,  although Ben-Ari referred to knowledge in this context and I’m adapting it to a knowledge of temporal requirements, which depends upon a mature assessment of the work involved and a sound knowledge of your own skill level.) The model that I am working with is effectively a team-based model, drawing on Dickinson and McIntyre’s 1997 work “Team Performance Assessment and Measurement: Theory, Methods and Applications.”, but where the team consists of a given student, my marking team and me. Ultimately our product is the submitted artefact and we are all trying to facilitate its timely production, but if I want students to be constructive and participative, rather than merely compliant and receptive, I have to involve them in the process. Dickinson and McIntyre identified seven roles in their model: orientation, leadership, monitoring, feedback, back-up (assisting/supporting), coordination and communication. Some of these roles are obviously mine, as the lecturer, such as orientation (establishing norms and keeping the group cohesive) and monitoring (observing performance and recognising correct contribution). However, a number of these can easily be shared between lecturer and student, although we must be clear as to who holds each role at a given time. In particular, if I hold onto deadlines and make them completely immutable then I have take the coordination role and handed over a very small fragment of that to the student. By holding onto that authority, whether it makes sense or not, I’m forcing the student into an authority-dependent mode.

(We could, of course, get into quite a discussion as to whether the benefit is primarily Piagiatien because we are connecting new experiences with established ideas, or Vygotskian because of the contact with the More Knowledgable Other and time spent in the Zone of Proximal Development. Let’s just say that either approach supports the importance of me working with a student in a more fluid and interactive manner than a more rigid and authoritarian relationship.)

Yes, I know, some deadlines are actually fixed and I accept that. I’m not saying that we abandon all deadlines or notion of immutability. What I am, however, saying is that we want our students to function in working teams, to collaborate, to produce good work, to know when to work harder earlier to make it easier for themselves later on. Rather than give them a tiny sandpit in which to play, I propose that we give them a larger space to work with. It’s still a space with edges, limits, defined acceptable behaviour – our monitoring and feedback roles are one of our most important contributions to our students after all – but it is a space in which a student can have more freedom of action and, for certain roles including coordination, start to construct their own successful framework for achievement.

Much as reading Vygotsky gives you useful information and theoretical background, without necessarily telling you how to teach, reading through all of these ideas doesn’t immediately give me a fully-formed implementation. This is why the guidelines were the first things I developed once I had some grip on the ideas, because I needed to place some pragmatic limits that would allow me to think about this within a teaching framework.  The goal is to get students to use the process to improve their time management and process awareness and we need to set limits on possible behaviour to make sure that they are meeting the goal. “Hacks” to their own production process, such as those that allow them to legitimately reduce their development time (such as starting the work early, or going through an early prototype design) are the point of the exercise. “Hacks” that allow them to artificially generate extra hours in the time bank are not the point at all. So this places a requirement on the design to be robust and not susceptible to gaming, and on the orientation, leadership and monitoring roles as practiced by me and my staff. But it also requires the participants to enter into the spirit of it or choose not to participate, rather than attempting to undermine it or act to spite it.

The spontaneous generation of hours was something that I really wanted to avoid. When I sketched out my first solution, I realised that I had made the system far too complex by granting time credits immediately, when a ‘qualifying’ submission was made, and that later submissions required retraction of the original grant, followed by a subsequent addition operation. In fact, I had set up a potential race condition that made it much more difficult to guarantee that a student was using genuine extension credit time. The current solution? Students don’t get credit added to their account until a fixed point has passed, beyond which no further submissions can take place. This was the first of the pragmatic limits – there does exist a ‘no more submissions’ point but we are relatively elastic to that point. (It also stops students trying to use obtained credit for assignment X to try and hand up an improved version of X after the due date. We’re not being picky here but this isn’t the behaviour we want – we want students to think more than a week in advance because that is the skill that, if practised correctly, will really improve their time management.)

My first and my most immediate concern was that students may adapt to this ‘last hand-in barrier’ but our collected data doesn’t support this hypothesis, although there are some concerning subgroups that we are currently tearing apart to see if we can get more evidence on the small group of students who do seem to go to a final marks barrier that occurs after the main submission date.

I hope to write more on this over the next few days, discussing in more detail my support for requiring a ‘no more submissions’ point at all. As always, discussion is very welcome!

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