Thursday, June 2, 2022

Counter-Intuitive Research To Boost Learning

"As it turns out, there's a way to improve student learning that even sullen teenagers  won't complain about: Give them financial incentives to study hard:" so says Harvard economist Roland Fryer based on research in about 290 schools with about 36, 000 students. Fryer, R., "How to Make Up the Covid Learning Loss: Paying Students for Attendance, Behavior, and Homework Can Boost Achievement, WSJ (May 31, 2022). 

In the article describing the research team's results, the author suggests that the key was targeting inputs (reading assignments, being in class, completing homework) rather than outputs (exam scores or results) because many students don't feel like they can control results but that inputs are within their control.  Id. All told, to put such an incentive to work in public schools would cost about $700 per year, which the author suggests (in my words) is small change compared to the roughly $13,000 on average spent per student per year for education.

I'm not so sure that paying students to read, practice, and learn makes sense because it feels like it's devaluing to the learning experience.  However, "the research team found that students' achievements remained elevated even after our incentives were removed."  Id.  And, as the author suggests, we pay people to work so why not pay students to learn?

It's an interesting question.  But truth be told, regardless of the daily incentives to learn, the key determinate for success in this large scale experiment was engaged learning on a daily basis.  So, I think that the lesson for us in legal education is to incentivize learning to learn - not through cash incentives - but through making the learning experience challenging joyful and productively meaningful.  That's hard work but that's our job.  

As a suggestion on how to help incentivize learning, try building within your curriculum learning exercises using news events that relate to the subjects that students are studying.  So, for example, in a tort class, one might explore possible product liability claims against companies manufacturing pulse oximeters because research indicates that the widespread use of these devices to determine whether one needed critical covid-19 care is racially biased, leading to under diagnosis of significant populations and likely premature deaths. Mosbergen, D., " Pulse Oximeters are Less Accurate Among Black, Hispanic, and Asian Covid Patients, WSJ (May 31, 2022).  Oh, and there's another legal issue lurking in this article:  "The Food and Drug Administration last year warned of potential pulse oximeter inaccuracies when used on people with dark skin pigmentation, but didn’t change the way it regulates the devices."  Id. In other words, are there any constitutional issues against the regulatory authority?In other words, tie what we learn in the books to how we can use it to help others, now. 

That's an incentive that I can buy in to.  (Scott Johns).

Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles | Permalink


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