A Lecture Today and The Magic of Bonus Points

At 4 pm today, the Working Group in Digital and New Media is hosting Ed Ayers, Professor of History and President of the University of Richmond, for a talk titled “20 Years in Digital History” at the Gorecki Alumni Center on the beautiful, spring-drenched campus of the University of North Dakota. For more details, check out the flyer at the bottom of this post.

Following regular procedure, we encouraged students to attend, then we cajoled them to doing something on campus that was free and better than whatever they had planned to do instead, then as the excuses roll in (work, class, family, everyday life, cereal, whatever), we finally resort to bribery. 

Traditionally, I’ve offered 1 million points to students who attend campus events like ice hockeying contests, weekend parties, and, of course, academic lectures. I’ll do almost anything to encourage students to engage in the life of campus. The key thing about these points is that they are not just ordinary points; they’re bonus points.

Bonus points are magical. While mathematically they work the same as regular points, they have an allure that can draw even the most disengaged student to a torpid ice hockeying contest or the most anti-intellectual curmudgeon to a on campus lecture. To use the words of contemporary university administration, bonus points are “transformational.”

The remarkable thing is, bonus points are like Dumbo’s feather. They really aren’t any different from the normal points that students consistently disregard, mock, resist, and ultimately hemorrhage over the course of a semester. For example, my history 101 class is rapt by the potential bonus points earned at the lecture tonight. This is the same class where I have to constantly remind students to put their names on the work they submit for ordinary points.

I suppose the magic of bonus points is that they preserve the illusion of being something for nothing. This is the same class where students take significant exception to the possibility that a student in their group would get credit (ordinary points, mind you), without doing their share of work. They will gladly accept bonus points, however, on the allure of getting something for nothing.

In any event, I decided to offer these same bonus points to anyone who attends the lecture, whether they are in my class or not. 

Ayers Talk Flyer pdf

 

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