I’ve been handing out cash to my students these last two weeks and so far it’s been great. Oh boy, you should look at ’em fighting over it… I mean, for it. Umm… ok, that’s not entirely true – it’s cash, all right, but not the kind they could use outside of Foothill – why, even outside my class.
Yup. That’s what it looks like.
“There are only three things in this world with […] unconditional acceptance: dogs, doughnuts and money” or so says Lawrence Garfinkle from Other People’s Money. These are the things, according to him, that have value, and can make people do things for you. I decided to experiment with his advice – I want to motivate my students to be more interactive in class. But because I can’t hand out puppies (I just want to adopt all of ’em myself), or doughnuts (they get old really fast), I decided to try the next best thing – money. And how could I possibly do it better than make my own moolah? That’s why I got right down to it.
Last week I made a system to generate Extra-Credit Dollar Bills – EC Bux, I call ’em. These dollar bills look legit, and come with a tracking system to protect against counterfeits. I printed and cut about 40 such dollar bills per course, and now use them to reward desirable class behavior or good coursework. My hope is that by the end of the quarter, all my bux are belongs to my students. If you want to experiment likewise, feel free to use my little online web-app to generate your own currency.
You can access the app at: http://ecbux.info – Here’s how I use the bux:
- I tell my students they can trade in the bux for points from me in the last two weeks of the quarter at one point per dollar (your exchange rate may be different).
- I allow them trade their bux for favors (I hope academic) from their classmates. I feel it important to give them this power and freedom, and suspect this ends up increasing the value of the currency in their eyes. At the end of the day, I believe most students would prefer to hang on to their hard-earned cash. Note that the bux have no value to anyone not in the class for which they were generated.
- I tell them that any dollar bill with more than one name written on its back is invalid. They can’t be exchanged for fractional points to multiple parties. So, if they choose, students can lay claim to their bux at any time by writing their name on the back.
- The serial numbers on the currency are course-specific, of course. I can check them against a table generated at the time the bux are made. And bux can only buy points for the student whose name is written on the back.
Of course, much of this is automated, so you don’t have to do any house-keeping. Well, we’re not quite there just yet. I’m still working on automatic counterfeit identification using a mobile app. Hopefully, soon you’d be able to point your phone’s camera at a bill and have the app tell you whether you’re looking at a legit bill, and if so, for what course and issued when. But until then, you have to do that last bit of verification yourself – I provide the table of serial numbers, though. Here’s what you have to do:
- Visit the website: http://ecbux.info (Just snagged it from godaddy today, Jan 15 , how ’bout that?)
- Select a secret phrase that will be known only to you. This is used in the generation of your currency’s serial numbers. Enter this secret phrase where it says so in the web app (See the picture below). It’s important that you remember this secret because when I eventually release the mobile app to verify your currency, you’ll need to enter the same secret (but only once) into the app.
- Select the number of dollar bills you want to print.
- Hit “Go”
- Now wait, or get a cup of tea as the rainbow square spins.
- Please be patient – the app is running on my personal web server that’s also running a dozen other web apps. It may take up to half a second to generate each dollar bill. It’s important you don’t hit Refresh or close your browser at this time. There’s no easy way for you to get back to the screen when your results are ready.
- When your currency has been generated, you’ll see thumbnails of it where the rainbow square was, like so:
- Click on the link that says where you can get your currency’s serial numbers. You’ll get to a page like this:
- Save these numbers in a file that you keep in a safe and secure place. These are the numbers you’ll use to verify bux that are traded in later. Don’t freak out – it’s actually not that hard to do the visual verification. But it will get even easier once I complete and release the scan to verify mobile app.
- If you like, bookmark the long URL or save it somewhere. It’ll take you to a page where the generated images and the serial numbers text file live.
- Click on the thumbnails of the currency sheets to see the full images. Download and print them from your favorite program (Photo Viewer on Windows or Preview on Mac). Make sure to look at the Print Preview to confirm that each printed sheet will have all the (up to five) bills on it. You don’t want the odd bill to overflow on to a second printed page. Normally this should be automatic.
- Cut the bills and you’re ready to hand ’em out.
Never been EC’er, right? (Pardon the pun. It’d only work for the Brit’s anyway).
If you do decide to use the webapp, I only have one request: Please be patient and considerate. I don’t expect it to be hit hard, and so multiple simultaneous requests will just slow down the system as a whole. If there’s sufficient interest, I can make the required changes to scale the system and move it behind a load-balancer.
I hope you find this a fun and easy way to promote student engagement and participation. Handing out these EC dollars has saved me a great deal of work unrelated to my primary goal in class. In previous quarters, I used to give out Extra Credit points for in-class participation, and solving special challenge problems I posted from time to time. But many students ended up forgetting about these extra credit opportunities. I kept repeatedly reminding them, but it appears that what they need is simply a constant reminder that’s in their pocket, as it were – a tangible symbol of what’s possible and something that sub-consciously relates to value. A greenback you can touch, feel, smell and caress – YEAH! Virtual extra-credit-points that I track for them in an electronic spreadsheet in the cloud – Yuck! What’s that?
I’m glad to say that so far, the system has worked quite nicely – but yes, this is based on all of two week’s worth of data 🙂 I hope to update with more data as and when the term progresses. Meanwhile I depend on you, dear reader, if you find the site at last moderately useful, to send me suggestions for improvement and bug reports.
Thanks and Enjoy!