A large fraction of students fail at university. One potential reason is that students do not exercise enough effort on a regular basis. If intrinsic motivation does not suffice to induce satisfactory student performance, then what interventions might help to increase student effort and performance?
In a recent IZA Discussion Paper, Arnaud Chevalier, Peter Dolton and Melanie Lührmann vary incentives for students to provide effort on a weekly basis. They focus only on one type of effort, participation to a weekly online quiz which provides students with feedback of their understanding of the lecture.
On a given week, students face either no incentive, get additional educational material if they participate, the best performer wins a book voucher, or the quiz is declared to be compulsory. In a second cohort, two additional incentives are included, the quiz grade counts for 2.5% or 5% towards the final grade for the course.
The study finds that the provision of additional educational material has little impact on weekly effort, whereas the book voucher rewarding only the top performer even reduces participation. But if effort is rewarded in terms of grades, then participation becomes close to what it is under compulsion. Assessment weighting increases quiz effort and continuous learning relatively more among lower ability students.
For the cohort subjects to the assessment weighting of quiz grades final grades improve at an average of 4%. These performance increases are in the order of magnitude of the results for large financial incentives. Since all incentives in the setup relate directly to course outcomes and are easy to scale up at a low cost, the authors conclude that it is quite easy to increase students effort and grades.