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“This assignment is not for a grade.” These are perhaps some of the most frustrating words of my academic career. Okay, so I have homework. Do I really want to do it? Probably not. Should I do it? Yes, definitely. What is keeping me accountable? Nothing other than any level of desire to learn the course material.

When I have an ungraded assignment, I find it much more difficult to motivate myself to complete it. I spend hours thinking about it, doing other assignments first, and procrastinating. Not only will the assignment not be graded, but that also means that as long as I learn the content by the next exam, I’ll be okay. The due date is more flexible.

On the other hand, when I know I’ll have to finish an assignment before I can spend two hours eating dinner with my friends, watching movies, or even sleeping, I am much more motivated to complete it. I’ll do a better job on it in the end, probably spend more time doing it, and feel better about it when I’m finished. I know that someone will look at my assignment, review it, and check in on me, even if I never know who that person is or what exactly they’re looking for. And still, this little change wholly motivates me.

On my DukeEngage project, I’m not receiving grades, but I am receiving feedback. Having dates by which my work must be done, people who will be directly affected by my product, and a responsibility to the other group members to do my fair share keeps me motivated throughout the project.

So, sure, there is some direct reward. But more than that there are expectations and there is feedback to keep me going.