Incentivising Thinking

It is well known in the medical world that patients will be compliant, i.e., will take their prescribed medication, if they perceive a direct benefit from taking that medication. Thus, someone with asthma might have no problem taking his/her ‘reliever’ but may be a bit hit-and-miss with their ‘preventer’.

There is an important message in there, one that applies to education as much as medicine; people will buy into something if they can see a real benefit to themselves from it.

Recently I’ve started to use this approach to get students to actually think. I don’t believe critical thinking can be taught but it can be encouraged. And the best way to  get students to think is to reward them for doing so.

So, in two of my modules I’ve posed a challenging problem (essentially computational) and offered students the reward of  2% added to their final module mark if they can solve it. While many students have not engaged, a significant group have. Interestingly, while they are obviously pulled in by the carrot of the 2% bonus, they tend to become like the proverbial dog with a bone and I get a sense that the challenge takes over and the prize becomes less of an issue than the satisfaction of solving the problem. Indeed I have had to tell some of them to let it go because they were spending way too much time on one particular problem.

In doing this I have been hugely encouraged by the ability of some of our students, especially their ability to draw on what they have learned in other  modules – maths modules in this particular case.

There is no doubt that we can do more to get the best out of our students.


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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One Response to Incentivising Thinking

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Incentivising Thinking

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