As someone who leads an (fairly quiet at the moment I will freely admit) educational community made up of students from two different classrooms, the idea of rewards is something that I’ve spent some time considering.
Kids are often rewarded for a variety of things in the classroom and I fully believe that most of those reward systems do more harm than good. They go a long ways to producing drones and not independent thinking, critical citizens. But that’s another whole post (or book).
But I do admit that I have spent some time looking at, and thinking about reward systems in online communities. As these spaces are often new for the students who take part in them, I have thought about different ways to encourage students to take part in them and to develop good online habits. I know the idea of gamification is a hot buzzword in a number of ed tech spaces right now, but I have yet to see a system that moves beyond being a simple reward system.
But once again, the FeverBee blog has come to my rescue. One of my favourite places for online community management knowledge and tips, a recent post there has me thinking along the lines of rewards again. More than outlining a “here’s how you do it” scheme, FeverBee has offered some questions that we need to think about:
1) Who do you reward? You have to segment your community members by activity, contributions, status, duration in the community and identify those whose behaviour you would most like to change.
2) Why do you reward them? Your most active members are often those you don’t need to reward. They’re already doing exactly what you want them to do. By offering a reward you can create expectations of rewards and upset others. You have to answer why you would reward this group. What would be different in the community if their behaviour changes?
3) How do you reward them? What are their motivations? Efficacy? Fame? Money? Power? Achievement? How do you translate these motivations into a reward you can offer?
4) How do you measure the effectiveness of that reward? When you issue the reward, how will you measure what level of influence it has on the individual’s behaviour? What are the benchmarks you’re following? You need to benchmark the group you’re rewarding with those outside of the scheme. You also need to track this over a period of time to see if the reward delivers changed behaviour or just a temporary change in behaviour.
The entire post is well worth a read and goes on to lead readers through a few different scenarios that are valuable to take some time to consider.
For online spaces that are focused on education and learning, we need to be very careful when we think about and create a reward system as our goals are much deeper than simply being about the number of posts produced, time spent online or comments left. While these might be indicators we want to consider and take into account, a student who occasionally leaves behind a spectacular post or spends their time greeting others and helping them along need to be considered extremely valuable members of a community.
Overall, the topics of motivation, encouragement and learning are deeply intertwined and need to be considered together.