Incentives and cognitive surplus

Via TechDirt I found this very cool video on how our “standard” notions of incentives don’t always work very well, especially when it comes to cognitive work. There’s a ton of cool ideas in the video (and more in the TechDirt piece, including some cool links).

The incentives in the talk are typically money, but I suspect that there are interesting things to be said about grades as an incentive in the academy. Does anyone know of work along those lines?

One really interesting story is about Atlassian, an Australian software company. (Their stuff is cool, and we’ve used some of it here at UMM in the past, but it’s gotten pricey and we’ve moved to other tools.) Apparently Atlassian gives their employees a 24 period every quarter to work on whatever they want, and then they have a party where people share what they’ve done. This apparently leads to a ton of cool ideas, bug fixes, and development. So, so cool.

How could we apply that here in the academy? What if we gave everyone in our Computer Science discipline a 24 hour period to work on whatever they wanted to and then had a big party where people shared what they did? Could we do it? Would it make sense if we did? What would it mean? We’d probably have to cancel at least our CSci classes that day, and probably make sure that no one was giving an exam the next day, etc., etc.

Because we would only control our discipline’s behavior, though, we wouldn’t give many of the students the freedom they’d need to really take advantage of the opportunity. It would presumably work a lot better if we did this across the entire campus – no classes, no exams, no papers due, and then some sort of event (or set of events distributed across campus) at the end for people to share their results.


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2 thoughts on “Incentives and cognitive surplus”

  1. Why not try it on a weekend Nick? Maybe 2 weeks before finals – because there won’t be an exam and nobody will be craming yet. Start Friday night and then have presentations on saturday evening. No classes to worry about and no tests…

  2. That would be a possibility, but part of the attraction (for me, and I suspect for the students) is the idea that we’re giving them time they would have otherwise spent on school instead of just cutting into their free time. Still, it might be better than nothing.

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