xMOOCs, Peer-Assessment und „Good intentions gone wrong“

Ich nehme gerade aktiv an einem xMOOC teil, um das Lehrformat besser zu verstehen und gleichzeitig etwas zum Thema Verhaltensökonomie zu lernen. Wie alle anderen TeilnehmerInnen habe ich daher eine Hausarbeit schreiben müssen. Aufgabe war es, in maximal 800 Worten ein problematisches Verhalten zu beschreiben, es in relevante Forschungsergebnisse einzubetten und schließlich eine Lösung vorzuschlagen.

Besonders interessant fand ich es, dass ein Peer-Grading-Verfahren eingesetzt wurde. Jeder musste nicht nur einen Text schreiben, sondern selbst mindestens drei andere Arbeiten nach vorgegebenen Kriterien bewerten. Interessierte von euch finden folgend meinen Text, die vorgegebenen Kriterien zur Beurteilung und schließlich die Rückmeldungen, die ich erhalten habe.

Mein Text

Good intentions gone wrong

All over the world, many people devote their time and effort to nonprofit organizations. For example, I volunteered for the German Red Cross, and twice a year we collected used clothes. We drove around my home town in order to pick up special bags that people had dropped at the roadside. Those bags were filled with shirts, pants, hats – sometimes stuff we had not expected – and could be quite heavy. When our truck was fully loaded, we drove back to a gathering place where we reloaded our freight to large containers. This procedure continued until all bags had been collected from town. It usually took us six hours or more.

In general, voluntary work at the Red Cross was not paid, but at this special occasion we were given $20. Considering the kind of labor and the number of working hours, this sum is rather small. Of course, it was given with good intentions, but we are facing a behavioral problem to be considered: Voluntary work resides in a domain that is largely affected by altruism and therefore can be considered as a social market. By paying volunteers, the Red Cross imposed monetary norms on the social domain. Research shows that this shift can be problematic.

Heyman and Ariely conducted several experiments in order to measure effort levels in different payment groups (Heyman & Ariely, 2004). Depending on the group students had been randomly assigned to, they were asked whether they would help someone to carry a sofa in exchange for no money, low payment, or medium payment. In a different experiment, students were told what payment they would receive and then had to perform a perfectly uninteresting task. The results were the same in both settings. The effort level increased when the payment increased from low to medium. Intriguingly, people expended even more effort without any compensation. Hence, in a social market rewards are no obligation and can even diminish people’s ambition. Intrinsic motivation can be partially destroyed when price incentives are introduced. Heyman and Ariely did not name this effect, but Frey and Oberholzer-Gee called it „Motivation Crowding-Out“ (Frey & Oberholzer-Gee, 1997).

The scale of this problematic behavior is quite large for nonprofit organizations because they are depending on volunteers to a large extent. If social norms are replaced by monetary norms, community services might face difficult times finding helping hands. Additionally, money – even thinking about money – can have a negative impact on helpfulness (Vohs, Mead & Goode, 2006, p. 1155). Since helpfulness is a crucial aspect of voluntary work, the problem might be worth thinking about.

In their experiments, Heyman and Ariely observed that gifts do not crowd out the social norm if their price remains disclosed. Concludingly, the Red Cross might find a non-monetary reward to both acknowledge the volunteers‘ work and to preserve their effort. Sponsoring a barbecue after the bag collection might be a possible solution and would even provide further benefits. From a social point of view, it could strengthen the bonds between the volunteers. Furthermore, from an economic perspective, paying a barbecue would presumably be cheaper than handing out cash because most people would probably not consume the equivalent of $20.

Unfortunately, the Crowding-Out effect can be permanent (Gneezy & Rustichini, 2000). Two researchers examined parents arriving late to collect their children from day-care centers. They introduced a fine for late-coming parents, thus turning a social norm (not forcing others to work longer) into a monetary norm (paying for a service). Now significantly more parents came late and this situation persisted even after the fine was removed.

In consequence, the Red Cross in my home town might not be able to revert the effect easily by ceasing to pay for collecting used clothes. Additionally, if the volunteers had accustomed themselves to receiving cash and consider it to be the default, they might feel like losing something. Since people have a tendency to evaluate losses between 1.5 and 2.5 times stronger than gains (Kahneman, 2011, pp. 283-284), a quite opulent barbecue might be neccessary for compensating the loss aversion. Voluntary organizations should nip things in the bud and be careful about paying their members. Good intentions can go wrong.


  • Frey, B. S., & Oberholzer-Gee, F. (1997). The Cost of Price Incentives: An Empirical Analysis of Motivation Crowding-Out. The American Economic Review, 87(4), 743-755.
  • Gneezy, U., & Rustichini, A. (2000). A Fine Is a Price. The Journal of Legal Studies, 29(1), 1-17.
  • Heyman, J., & Ariely, D. (2004). Effort for Payment. Psychological Science, 15(11), 787-793.
  • Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. London: Penguin Books.
  • Vohs, K. D., Mead, N. L., & Goode, M. R. (2006). The Psychological Consequences of Money. Science, 314(5802), 1154-1156.

Die Kriterien

Es wurden drei große Bereiche vorgegeben, die mit jeweils bis zu drei Punkten bewertet werden konnten. Insgesamt konnten damit neun Punkte erreicht werden.

Did the student identify and describe a behavioral problem?

  • Did the student use the correct name for the problem (if the problem has a name we discussed in this course)?
  • Did the student give a clear indication of why the behavior is problematic?
  • Did the student tell us what the scale of the problem was?

Did the student correctly identify and describe research that is relevant to the problem?

  • Did the student summarize the experiments and findings about this behavior? This should include only relevant experiments and findings.
  • Did the student refer to experiments from the assigned readings?
  • Did the student cite his or her sources?

Did the student propose a research-based solution?

  • Did the student propose a solution?
  • Did the student show the solution was based on existing behavioral research?
  • Was the solution original? That is, did the student come up with plan that was not exactly like another we have studied?

Die Rückmeldungen

Von meinen drei Peer-Reviewern erhielt ich insgesamt 7 von 9 Punkten (als Median der Bewertungen), 2 Punkte für den ersten Block, 3 Punkte für den zweiten und 2 Punkte für den dritten. Dazu erhielt ich die folgenden Kommentare:

peer 1 → 1. The description of the problem is fine. However it lacks a clear description of the problem. It would be good to synthesise it in one simple sentence such as. „The effect of paying volunteers small sums of money may have negative effects, and there may be more efficient ways to reward and motivate volunteers“. 3. I thought a more complete solution would have the positive ways to reward and motivate volunteers that may have included providing meaning, ownership etc..
peer 3 → The student may elaborate more on the scale of the problem.

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