College & Workforce Readiness

Univ. Professor Tests (or Tricks?) Students With Extra Credit Question

By Maggie DeBlasis — July 23, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Extra credit questions are a good thing. But when students enrolled in a University of Maryland psychology course reached the extra credit question of their online exam, they were in for a surprise.

The final question on Professor Dylan Selterman’s social psychology exam read “Select whether you want 2 points or 6 points added onto your final paper grade. But there’s a small catch: if more than 10% of the class selects 6 points, then no one gets any points.”

One of Selterman’s students expressed a sentiment many others may have been feeling:

After Selterman confirmed he was the professor in question on his own Twitter account, he explained himself and his decision to run this experiment on his students in a Washington Post blog earlier this week.

“This exercise impels students to consider how their actions affect others, and vice versa,” he wrote.

One of Selterman’s professors during his undergraduate years taught him this illustration of the “tragedy of commons,” a form of prisoner’s dilemma, in which “a group whose members pursue rational self-interest may all end up worse off than a group whose members act contrary to rational self-interest,” per the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

“The temptation to be self-serving in these situations is not new,” Selterman wrote. “Communities have been grappling with the commons dilemma for centuries (during food shortages, for example), although now it may be more of a problem given our skyrocketing population numbers. With billions more people, the planet’s natural resources may not be enough to sustain us.”

While the professor attributes his students’ choices to a “go big or go home” mentality, psychologist Karla Ivankovich told Yahoo Health the question is the type people should be asking millennials.

“This generation has been encouraged to be in touch with their emotional intelligence more than any other in the past, yet they’re also the most individually and egocentrically-driven generation ever,” she said. (Editor’s note: *eye roll*) “The younger you are, the less likely you are going to be to consider what is good for the group.”

Selterman has conducted this experiment since 2008, but only once, in fall 2011, have Selterman’s students gotten their extra credit. Twenty percent of this semester’s class chose the six-point option, according to Shahin Rafikian, the student who originally tweeted the question. And while they didn’t walk away with those extra points, their professor hopes they walked away with something.

“I hope that any students who take my class will be better able to navigate the social world and effectively collaborate with others in the future because of the lessons they learned from social psychology,” Selterman wrote. “When people leave my classroom, I want them to realize they have the tools to change the world for the better, and to help usher us into a more enlightened society.”

Image taken from Twitter, @SelterMosby

More on:

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.