Should we promote collaboration or competition?

Karin Howell presents a summary of the main discussion points of the session on Competition and Collaboration.

Illustration by Cayla Basson

(In honor of the memory of Jacob Ward)

In my perception of the world, competition is promoted above all. It is so integrated into ourselves that we are often driven by it, no matter what, and often subconsciously.

I wish to understand how much are we really promoting collaboration in education? How beneficial and necessary is it to our contemporary society to have the skills to collaborate in critical thinking?
How important and difficult is it to do abstract mathematics in collaboration?

I wish to hear the students’ thoughts and experience on this. How much do they work with each other? And how do they experience it? Why? How hard and complicated is it to collaborate when our natural inclination is to compete?

If a change needs to be made, what and how should we go about it, always keeping in mind that we are all human beings and an important goal of education should be to establish a learning environment where we feel balanced, guided, and valued as such.

Dr Sophie Marques

Illustration by Liani Malherbe

What was said…

The first part of the discussion centered on group work. Some of the advantages of group work mentioned was that it leads to the exploration of different methods and that working in pairs is a mechanism for encouraging healthy competition. Some of the disadvantages were that it is faster to work on your own, it takes time to explain in a group and to find the time for arranging meetings with team members and that group work is exhausting for an introvert. There was a suggestion of a mark being assigned for how well a group works together, as opposed to one mark for the final product the group produces. In terms of group dynamics, it is best to first identify each person’s strengths and to work from there. The overwhelming feeling was that group work is not fruitful if it is not monitored.

There was a lot of discussion around the theme of competition. Competition prevents complacency, drives progress and is a natural part of human civilisation. Competition should always be a personal choice and centered on mutual respect and that ranking should not determine value; but that there should be reward in participation. Competition could be damaging if self-value is attached to it. An argument against competition is that it slows down progress, since it teaches us to overshadow another’s progress, being at the top may hamper progress, while being at the bottom may be demotivating. Collaboration, as opposed to competition is a driver for progress. The healthiest competition is with yourself.

Educators should not put students into boxes but acknowledge that each individual has a different starting point and goals. Perhaps we should consider how this may be better accommodated in our assessment approaches.

In closing, one participant quoted from Game of Thrones:
    “Power resides where the people believe it resides.”

Dr. Karin-Theresa Howell

Department of Mathematical Sciences,

by Nandan Malhotra
Meme by Nandan Malhotra
by Nandan Malhotra
Meme by Nandan Malhotra

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