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Students questions and answers reflect their thoughts. It is very important to teach them how to ask nice questions and how to answer them. In order to improve these abilities I would like to commence a Q&A contest in one of my undergraduate courses ("Foundations of Maths") but I am not sure about all possible aspects of such a competition.

Question 1: What are possible disadvantages of a math Q&A contest in an undergraduate course? Could it be more useful for graduates? What sort of problems could happen during such a process?

Question 2: How to organize a Q&A contest effectively? What sort of algorithm should I follow to manage this additional event during semester?

Question 3: How to judge that which question/answer is better? Are there any clear criterion or I should trust on my feeling?

Question 4: What is a good prize for the winner?

Please feel free to add your personal experiences if you had something similar in your courses before.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea! Were you inspired? meta.matheducators.stackexchange.com/q/379/80. :-) $\endgroup$ – Brendan W. Sullivan Aug 7 '14 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure about the contest aspect, but there are ideas in Brown & Walter's "The Art of Problem Posing" about how to incorporate problem formulation into a course for prospective mathematics teachers. One of their suggestions is to break up into groups, each of which establishes its own "problem journal" complete with editorial guidelines, and then prospective teachers submit pieces to one other for review/feedback/inclusion. You can find some of my related comments here: matheducators.stackexchange.com/a/1382/262 $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Dickman Aug 7 '14 at 17:02
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You can organize it as a low-tech version of StackExchange!

Collect questions (anonymously) and present them to the class, letting them upvote the questions they feel are relevant. Then collect answers (anonymously) and present them for evaluation. Students should upvote those answers they feel help them understand better. The reason anonymity is important is to avoid friends helping each other, which certainly will tend to occur if you use the "reputation points" to award bonus credit at the end of the semester.

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  • $\begingroup$ (+1) Nice Answer! Thanks. $\endgroup$ – user230 Oct 16 '14 at 4:32
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Let's start with question 2, because it's easier on me as the answerer.

Over in the mathematics and economics world, we like markets. I'd envision market system for Q&A.

Each student receives n units of currency (let's call them something sexy like MATH_Bux!) into a trust. They can only spend MATH_Bux! on answers. At the end of the quarter, student's MATH_Bux! earned for answers (those in the trust are not counted) are logged as a distribution and you scale 5% of their grade based on the MATH_Bux! distribution. 5% sounds reasonable to me as a student. This also sounds a lot like an answer to question 4.

On some sort of forum or something (I would use the internet for this), students may post questions from class (or independent study?) and answers. Students bid on which answer they like the best with their MATH_Bux!. I'd allocate myself, as the instructor, some fixed daily allotment of MATH_Bux! that I always spend within one week of accrual, to guarantee a certain level of activity (maybe do this with the students too, but then that punishes the student with an absurdly good idea in week 9 that is hailed as a genius by her classmates). I'd also post both questions and answers as a teacher, but never reward my MATH_Bux! to answers of questions I ask (to avoid bias problems). Hmmmm, this sounds like a good use of a sub-reddit. And it also sounds a lot like an answer to question 3.

To answer question 1, well, everything is better for graduates. They have more background and more dedication, so they'll take better advantage of something like this. But one of the reasons they're better at things like this is because they should've already done them as undergrads so I would be pretty optimistic for your undergrads. After all, if you've identified this as an important educational area, until a better way to teach it comes up this is all there is. I'd expect problems with participation (which is why I suggested a slight grade incentive), point trading (which actually still incentivizes some discussion), and concerns over quality (what I've experienced in Q&A classes, for which I generally recommend large numbers of examples).

And invariably someone will think MATH_Bux! is a silly name, and want dataPointz or something that isn't nearly as cool. Don't cave on that, MATH_Bux! is an awesome name and I'm sure everyone will learn to love it.

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  • $\begingroup$ (+1) Thanks for your really helpful answer. $\endgroup$ – user230 Oct 16 '14 at 4:32

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