Technology brings us all kinds of advances in the world of education: as well as the basic software stuff, such as B&N's NookStudy, there's Nature Publishing's social media-savvy Scitable. And then you move along to how stuff such as the iPad and iPhone is helping the newest generations, while the Internet is improving the undergraduate experience (just ask Mark Zuckerberg). And then you come to Ultrinsic, and you think, college kids and gambling, now why didn't anyone else think of that?
So, let's explain. Ultrinsic, currently in beta form, allows students at 37 colleges to gamble on their grades in each of the classes they take. The student hands over money to Ultrinsic—as well as access to his or her official school records—as a wager that they will attain a certain grade. If they get it, Ultrinsic pays out on a sliding scale.
A pilot scheme in place at both Penn and NYU over the last academic year had some takers, including one guy who won $150, although the serious money is to be made by high schoolers as they head off to university. Then, if you bet $20 on getting a 4.0 GPA, then you'll walk away with $2,000 should you succeed. That, apparently, is what motivation looks like.
The idea came from one of the site's founders, Jeremy Gelbart, who, as a student, made a wager with his friend Steven Wolf, now CEO of Ultrinsic. If Jeremy got an A, Steven would give him $100. If he didn't, Jeremy had to hand over $20 to Steven.
There is a chance that, as well as making students devote most of their time to working out how to game the system in search of a tidy sum, it may motivate some of the less salubrious professors out there in the dusty world of academe to hand out a bunch of A grades and demand a slice of the profits from their students. Judah Guber, one of the Ultrinsic posse admitted that, yes, there was a worry, in an interview with Andrew Gelman, although there are plans to limit the size of the incentives.
"We have algorithms that take into account a number of different statistics like academic history, how well they do in certain subjects, as well as others as we gather more and more information. So, the more data that's collected, the more accurate these odds will become."