Reflecting on rewards – is Time Banking a reward or a technique?

The Reward As It Is Often Implemented
(In Advance and Starting With a B)

Enough advocacy for a while, time to think about research again! Given that I’ve just finished Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards, and more on that later, I’ve been looking very carefully at everything I do with students to work out exactly what I am trying to do. One of Kohn’s theses is that we tend to manipulate people towards compliance through extrinsic tools such as incentives and rewards, rather than provide an environment in which their intrinsic motivational aspects dominate and they are driven to work through their own interest and requirements. Under Kohn’s approach, a gold star for sitting quietly achieve little except to say that sitting quietly must be so bad that you need to be bribed, and developing a taste for gold stars in the student. If someone isn’t sitting quietly, is it because they haven’t managed sitting quietly (the least rewarding unlockable achievement in any game) or that they are disengaged, bored or failing to understand why they are there? Is it, worse, because they are trying to ask questions about work that they don’t understand or because they are so keen to discuss it that they want to talk? Kohn wants to know WHY people are or aren’t doing things rather than just to stop or start people doing things through threats and bribery.

Where, in this context, does time banking fit? For those who haven’t read me on this before, time banking is described in a few posts I’ve made, with this as one of the better ones to read. In summary, students who hand up work early (and meet a defined standard) get hours in the bank that they can spend at a later date to give themselves a deadline extension – and there are a lot of tuneable parameters around this, but that’s the core. I already have a lot of data that verifies that roughly a third of students hand in on the last day and 15-18% hand up late. However, the 14th highest hand-in hour is the one immediately after the deadline. There’s an obvious problem where people aren’t giving themselves enough time to do the work but “near-missing” by one hour is a really silly way to lose marks. (We won’t talk about the pedagogical legitimacy of reducing marks for late work at the moment, that’s a related post I hope to write soon. Let’s assume that our learning design requires that work be submitted at a certain time to reinforce knowledge and call that the deadline – the loss, as either marks or knowledge reinforcement, is something that we want to avoid.)

But, by providing a “reward” for handing up early, am I trying to bribe my students into behaviour that I want to see? I think that the answer is “no”, for reasons that I’ll go into.

Firstly, the fundamental concept of time banking is that students have a reason to look at their assignment submission timetable as a whole and hand something up early because they can then gain more flexibility later on. Under current schemes, unless you provide bonus points, there is no reason for anyone to hand up more than one second early – assuming synchronised clocks. (I object to bonus points for early hand-in for two reasons: it is effectively a means to reward the able or those with more spare time, and because it starts to focus people on handing up early rather than the assignment itself.) This, in turn, appears to lead to a passive, last minute thinking pattern and we can see the results of that in our collected assignment data – lots and lots of near-miss late hand-ins. Our motivation is to focus the students on the knowledge in the course by making them engage with the course as a whole and empowering themselves into managing their time rather than adhering to our deadlines. We’re not trying to control the students, we’re trying to move them towards self-regulation where they control themselves.

Secondly, the same amount of work has to be done. There is no ‘reduced workload’ for handing in early, there is only ‘increased flexibility’. Nobody gets anything extra under this scheme that will reinforce any messages of work as something to be avoided. The only way to get time in the bank is to do the assignments – it is completely linked to the achievement that is the core of the course, rather than taking focus elsewhere.

Thirdly, a student can choose not to use it. Under almost every version of the scheme I’ve sketched out, every student gets 6 hours up their sleeve at the start of semester. If they want to just burn that for six late hand-ins that are under an hour late, I can live with that. It will also be very telling if they then turn out to be two hours late because, thinking about it, that’s a very interesting mental model that they’ve created.

But how is it going to affect the student? That’s a really good question. I think that, the way that it’s constructed, it provides a framework for students to work with, one that ties in with intrinsic motivation, rather than a framework that is imposed on students – in fact, moving away from the rigidly fixed deadlines that (from our data) don’t even to be training people that well anyway is a reduction in manipulate external control.

Will it work? Oh, now, there’s a question. After about a year of thought and discussion, we’re writing it all up at the moment for peer review on the foundations, the literature comparison, the existing evidence and the future plans. I’ll be very interested to see both the final paper and the first responses from our colleagues!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s