Traci Gardner

Experimenting with Bribery in the Classroom

Blog Post created by Traci Gardner Expert on Mar 26, 2019
African American woman scientist, reading a book, with lab equipment in the background
African American woman scientist, with lab equipment in the background

I tried an experiment in my online classes this week. Spring Break begins this weekend. Students are working on recommendation reports, the major research document of the term. Their work on these reports is spread over four weeks. The week of Spring Break falls in the middle, as shown in this schedule:

Week ofActivities
February 25Begin research for recommendation report
March 4Finish research and sketch plans for report
March 11Spring Break
March 18Create rough draft of report
March 25Finish and submit final version of report

I ask students to complete a Progress Report before they leave for Spring Break. The assignment requires them to take stock of the work they’ve completed and the work they still need to do. When they return to their projects after break, their progress reports help them know where to resume their work on the project.

The progress report assignment is due the Friday before Spring Break starts, so March 8th this year. The three-day grace period for the assignment creates a challenge, however. I don’t count the days of Spring Break, so the grace period ends the first day students are back on campus, March 18 this year. While I intend for students to complete the progress reports before they leave, the grace period ensures that their grades are not harmed if they wait until they return.

Over the years, I have tried various ways to entice, encourage, and, let’s face it, beg students to complete their progress reports before they leave. I argue that the strategy will make their work easier and more efficient when they return to classes, but the lure of leaving early for that week off from classes wins out. Typically only five or six students turn the report in ahead of time, and a few more will turn it in during Spring Break. Most students submit it when they return.

This week, I tried a different strategy by appealing to their interest in higher grades. In short, I tried a bribe. If they turned in their progress reports by 11:59 PM on Friday the 8th, they can earn up to 125 points. If they turn in their report any later, they can earn no more than 100 points. The course is graded on accumulated points. The extra points matter, but no one is punished for using the grace period.

The result is that 26 students turned in their progress reports before leaving town, significantly more than the typical five or six. There is still room for improvement, as those 26 students represent only 31% of the enrollment. I’m making progress though, so bribery seems like it was a good choice.

What do you do to convince students to make the best choices? Have you tried bribing them? Do you have other strategies that work? I would love to hear from you. After all, I need to convince that 69% of the classes who didn’t turn in their progress reports. To share your ideas, just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: “African American woman, half-length portrait, facing left, reading book,” Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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