Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An experiment in procrastination

It goes like so:

Students have three papers to write. Students in one class make their own deadlines. Students in a second class are given one deadline for all three papers: the last day of class. Students in a third class are given three deadlines for the three papers: the fourth, eighth, and twelfth weeks of classes. Which class gets the best grades?

Dan Ariely recounts such an experiment in what looks like a worthwhile book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (New York: HarperCollins, 2009). Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University.

If the answer to the above question isn’t obvious: the class with three teacher-imposed deadlines had the best grades. And yes, the class with the last-day deadline had the worst grades. But a further question: which class and teacher would most students think the coolest?

A related post
45/15 (An anti-procrastination strategy)

(Book found via Boing Boing)

comments: 3

Rachel said...

Looks like an interesting book. I'd be interested to know what "best" and "worst" grades mean, though...I'm assuming that the grades are meant to be reflective of the work, but I imagine other issues could influence the grades, too. Like a professor rushing to get so many papers graded before grades are due. Or having no way to judge the improvement or growth of the students as writers, or students not having feedback worked into the course with multiple due dates. Seems like a lot of variables.

Michael Leddy said...

The lack of feedback and improvement is for sure something to consider. I think that rushing to get things graded is more likely to make for higher grades — looking less carefully, letting things go. Now I want to read the book and find out more.

(Hi, Rachel!)

Michael Leddy said...

I checked by sampling the book on Amazon: Ariely reports that the “vast majority” of students who set their own deadlines spaced them out and did as well as students with the imposed deadlines. But work left for the end of the semester was “generally rushed and poorly written.”