The $2 Reward

I hate it when a textbook contains an error. After reading a section I'll go, "Whoa, that doesn't make sense." The first thing I do is: Blame myself. I must not have understood it correctly. So, frustrated, I'll go back and read it again, and then re-read it again. At some point, I'll realize that I'm not wrong--the textbook is.

In the best case, I'll know what research or theory the textbook is talking about and I'll be able to spot an error immediately. But not always. And I hate that moment of not knowing--or more precisely, the moment of believing that I don't know. I imagine students feel the same way.

I've always asked students to let me know whenever they encounter an error in a textbook. But not many students did. So then I started offering a $1 reward as a sort of bounty for being the first one to find an error, and still got a low response rate. Then I started offering $2--and crossed some sort of threshold. Now I get quite a few emails from students sending me textbook errors. The response rate was also "helped" by recently having a textbook that had 47 errors. Another textbook by the same author has 31...and counting. (Yes, I am quite motivated to find errors first.)

Some errors are not a big deal--like a misspelling of a researcher's name, or saying that Halle Berry played Catwoman in the movie Batman (it was, of course, the movie Catwoman). But other errors are more serious, like explaining things backwards, or labeling parts of diagrams opposite of what they should be.

You'll see a list of errors posted on the main page of the class website. Any new errors have an "updated" tag beside them. (Make sure you pencil in the corrections in your textbook.) I also collect these errors to send them to the publisher of the textbook so the errors can be corrected in any new printings of the textbook. I figure it's the least they can do, especially when you consider the high cost of textbooks.

Interestingly, there's another way that my $2 reward can help students. If a student reads something in the textbook and it doesn't make sense--if it seems to be backwards, like the author made an error--I'll get an email asking me for a $2 reward. Quite often in cases like this, the textbook will turn out to be correct; the problem is in the student's understanding of the material. This is a great opportunity for me to directly help a student understand the material. So you won't get a toonie for a cup of Tim's, but you will get some free help in understanding a concept--and in overcoming that feeling of not knowing.

Why aren't you studying?


Anonymous said...

Personally, I never reported any errors because it would make it look like I did it for the $2. Also, I did not report errors then opt to not take the $2 either because then it would seem like I did it just to look good. Instead, I opted to remain silent about everything; let someone else get that $2 they desire. I would have actually been more likely to report an error if there had been no monetary incentive in the first place, but I guess I would be an outlier in this case.

Karsten Loepelmann said...

@Anonymous: OK--but you could still help out your poor fellow students by sending me an anonymous email (there are a lot of services that will let you set up a temporary email address that expires after an hour). That way, you won't be seen as greedy, or a suck-up. It's a win-win!

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