karma is a b_ _ _ h

Allow me to share a cautionary tale, which will be particularly relevant to anyone who has  150+ millennials in an online class.

One of the assignments in the first week of class included a (I thought) funny play on a title of a Katy Perry song. Was it a way to reach out to the younger generation? Perhaps.  In any case, in the prompt to the assignment I added a ps: “PS: karma credit to whoever names the pop-culture reference that inspired the title of this assignment“.

My expectation was that this would lead a few bold students to post on our community discussion board (Piazza.com), start a conversation and thereby build our community early on in the quarter.

Here is what actually happened.

Day 1, a student posts a pithy comment and claims early stake to karma credit. Day 2, 5 students post individual contributions with the exact same content: Katy Perry. Between day 3 and day 10 the discussion board got flooded with 150 individual post containing the same thing – “Katy Parry was ProfLevy’s inspiration” or something to that effect.

Somewhere in week 2 students started asking where their karma credit would show in the grade-book. I posted this:


and I apologized if anyone thought there would be actual credit-credit for something that was not actually part of the assignment.

End of week 2 I got an email from a student asking why she didn’t get credit for the assignment since she did the karma assignment and posted that Katy Perry was the inspiration. I had to explain that she didn’t get credit because she didn’t actually do the assignment, and by the way, there was no “karma assignment”.

So – after letting this brush fire burn out, what is the lesson?

1) millennials may not understand what karma is, at least not in this context

2) putting the words “credit” and “karma” in one sentence of a written prompt may lead all student to only see one of those words (in this class they all saw “credit”) and act accordingly to maximize chances of success

3) when managing large numbers of people and trying to create conversations online among them – be clear, think it through, and then be clear again. And then rethink.

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