January 15, 2019
Volume 3, Number 10
How Two Professors Use a 'Grade Insurance' Project to Motivate Students
It’s a question that many professors face: How can I make abstract concepts like risk, value, and probability meaningful to students?

Two professors of business at the University of North Texas at Denton may have found an answer that uses the conventions of their discipline: asking students to insure their grades.

For years, Nat Pope, an associate professor, and Yu-Luen Ma, a professor, had been teaching business students the finer points of how insurance works. But they weren’t quite connecting. “It’s always a hard thing for students to get their head around — what the principles of insurance are,” Pope said.

One year, they decided to change tack. They run a sort of live experiment in which students can insure their semester grade.

Here’s how it works: Throughout the semester, students earn points, like dollars, with the hope of a potential “payout” of 100 points after the final exam. Every student, of course, is familiar with the feeling of risk heading into that exam. So just before the final, students have three options: Do nothing (what Ma and Pope call “hope for the best”), study (“risk-management loss-control strategies”), or protect against that risk by spending the points they’ve earned on “grade-insurance contracts.”

The twist: Students draft the contracts themselves. As Ma and Pope teach about premiums, actuarial number crunching, and risk pools, students form small teams to put those concepts into practice. Before the final, they collect anonymized data on their classmates’ performance and make products of their own.

The groups use the data to calculate a person’s likelihood of loss on the final exam — how many points he or she is likely to miss — and the magnitude of that loss. Groups divide students based on their expected performance, determining a premium for each pool. Then they build conditions into their contracts to prevent against fraud and “moral hazard” — say, a student spends a few points on insurance and intentionally bombs on the final.

In effect, well-built contracts will benefit only students who encounter some unexpected event going into the final, like a sudden illness. The best ones protect against loss and promote smart risk management — studying. It’s a bit like “purchasing home insurance while still having fire extinguishers in the house,” Ma and Pope said.

Groups can even offer creative bonuses for certain pools. High-performing students, for instance, might be eligible for an insurance package that offers private study groups led by a course alumna.

“This isn’t about protecting students’ grades,” Pope said. “It’s about having students perform the insurer’s function.”

Eventually, Ma and Pope said, students recognize that too. When the project is introduced, Ma said, students immediately think about it as consumers: How can I get the most coverage for the cheapest premium? “But as soon as they started working on the project and thinking like an insurance company, then they realized why products like that cannot exist in the marketplace,” she said.

Kaitlyn Mustico, a senior mathematics major who took Ma’s class last fall, said the project had helped her “learn the subject more concretely” than if she had done rote memorization.

Mustico and her group didn’t know anything about insurance when they started, she said. Eventually, they figured out what data they needed to design insurance products: factors like a classmate’s year, GPA, past exam grades, and average number of hours studying. Those data points, with Ma’s approval, went into a form that each student filled out and submitted. Then Ma compiled and anonymized it.

All of that work culminates in an end-of-semester insurance fair, complete with businesswear and sticker-spattered trifolds. Most students choose not to buy grade insurance, which is normal, Ma and Pope said. After all, insurance products aren’t meant to leave buyers better off, but to protect against loss.

“Students realize that having insurance in this case is not a panacea,” said Pope. Instead, they learn their best option is to study harder.

The project does, of course, mean a hefty workload for the instructors. Ma and Pope act as regulators, analyzing and vetoing faulty products. And even for seasoned Excel wranglers, it takes time to track 10 or more insurance policies, their purchasers, and their perks in the final weeks of the semester.

“It’s worth it in the end,” Pope said, “because students can get really creative.”

– by Becky Supiano, Teaching Newsletter: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us at   dan.berrett@chronicle.combeth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com, or  beckie.supiano@chronicle.com. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to sign up to receive your own copy, you can do so  here.
Announcing: Gather & Share Events
The FCTL will be offering "  Gather & Share  " events on the 3rd Wednesday of the month, starting in January, from 3:45pm - 4:45pm in ADUC 301. The objective is to have a "topic" area and share a couple of ideas and then have folks gather and share about the topic.

The Next Gather & Share Event:
Topic: Student Engagement
When: Wednesday, January 16, 2019 ( Tomorrow ); 3:45pm – 4:45pm
Where: ADUC 301
Educator: FCTL
Synopsis: Join FCTL in exploring “Student Engagement” at the inaugural “Gather & Share” event. Come ready to “chat it up” with your colleagues on this important topic. Refreshments will be served.
Blackboard Buzz
Student Preview
Do you want to check a Blackboard shell before making the course available to students? Would you like to see your course from the students’ point of view? If so, try the Student Preview feature before deploying your course.

With Student Preview, faculty can experience a course exactly as their students will. This feature allows faculty to review the availability of course content including those triggered by particular student interactions.

YouTube has a video tutorial on the Student Preview tool (see video below). E mail msuonline@moreheadstate.edu for on-campus support. 
What I Love About Teaching Campaign
Hello Educators!

We are looking for your response to the question "What do you love about teaching?"

Click the link below to share your response:
Mini Grants Available for
Alternative Spring Break Trips and Activities
Applications open October 1st

 KyCC has received Volunteer Generation Funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) for alternative service activities that:
  • are in Kentucky
  • include reflection for participants
  • include an intergenerational component

For more information, see their website:  https://kycompact.org/americorps/alternative-spring-break-funding/.
Teach Abroad
Deadline: March 1, 2019
Faculty are invited to apply to teach a course in a KIIS Summer 2020 program. KIIS operates approximately 22 Summer programs each year. Faculty application materials include:
  • Biographical information
  • CV (PDF)
  • Your proposed course title & a brief course description (For more information please click here.)
  • Details of your teaching & experience
  • Email address for your supervisor (he or she will receive an email to complete this section within 10 days of the faculty deadline)
 The Faculty Summer application deadline is March 1, 2019. Click any “Apply Now” button at  kiis.org to begin your application. For information about your application, visit the “Faculty” dropdown at kiis.org. For information about the Winter programs, see the “Programs” dropdown.
2019 Gateway Course Experience Conference
Atlanta, GA / March 17-19, 2019

 Higher education faculty, professionals, students and educators are invited to:
  • Share innovative ideas and practices you are using to solve problems and enable transformative course redesign at your institution.
  • Connect and collaborate with colleagues from other institutions who are working to integrate active learning and other strategies into how they teach gateway courses.
  • Share evidence about how your course redesign efforts are improving student success and learning and/or advancing more equitable outcomes. 
  • We value your students' perspectives in all aspects of teaching and learning and encourage you to consider having a student(s) as co-presenter(s).
Ambassadors for Excellence in Teaching
Morehead State University