Sometimes it feels as if the Americans just think of it first.

The Huffington Post reported earlier this month about Ultrinsic, a website based in the US that allows students to bet on how well they will do in particular courses.  Here is a description of how it works:

A student registers, uploads his or her schedule and gives Ultrinsic access to official school records. The New York-based site then calculates odds based on the student’s college history and any information it can dig up on the difficulty of each class, the topic and other factors. The student decides how much to wager up to a cap that starts at $25 and increases with use.

The founders are pegging it as an incentive for students to improve their grades.  Here is the explanation from the website:

Ultrinsic is a web-based college platform that provides incentives to students for academic achievement. Ultrinsic exclusively dedicates itself to motivating students to improve their grades.

To participate in Ultrinsic, all a student does is log into their account at the beginning of each semester and choose the course they are registered for.
Based on the student’s academic history, and the amount they choose to invest in their ability to reach that target grade, a cash reward will be calculated for the student.  Therefore, any student can participate, no matter what end of the academic spectrum they fall into.

When the semester is over, the student sends in their official transcript and Ultrinsic will verify their win and credit their account with the winnings.

The student will have completed a semester of college, achieved the highest possible grades, and received a cash bonus. Can’t think of many better ways to conclude a semester than that!

Ultrinsic incentives are beneficial because they motivate students to succeed in school.  Notwithstanding if the student won the incentive or not, if the student tried harder and improved their academic standings even slightly, the experience was well worth it.

The Huffington Post article discusses the concerns surrounding the legalities of the site in terms of prohibitions on gambling, indicating that it seems to be on-side.  No Canadian universities appear on a list of educational institutions posted on the site, but any attempt to move north will likely be met with similar concerns.

Ultrinsic is an example of how the internet has facilitated a wave of ingenuity with particularly interesting effects on students and educational institutions.  It may putter out and die, or it may be overcome by a competitor, but parties to the educational process should understand the legal implications of these innovations.

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