Assessment & Competition: Are They Compliments or Substitutes?

In Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Robert Nelson and Philip Dawson use their knowledge as associate professors and directors at Monash University and Deakin University to investigate whether competition in pedagogic context is positive or negative, and whether it is old and indispensable or new and contentious. In this reading response, I, at first, will convey why I believe competition’s entanglement with assessment presents more disadvantages than its antipode by developing my defense on top of Nelson & Dawson’s argument. Subsequently, I will expand my argument in relation to past readings, my political science course and another student’s reading response. Finally, I shall question relativity in competition to further stimulate discussion

Firstly, I believe competition’s role in higher education is questionable since it pushes students away from their field of study’s purpose. In other words, as the authors have mentioned when regarding Nietzsche’s take on motivation, the profound desire to “be better” than others acts as an extrinsic motivator for their studies, thus eclipsing the acquisition of knowledge as a main, intrinsic source of stimulation. For example, when I lived with a Chinese family in Shanghai, my friend taught me the basics of China’s academic ranking system as a measure for scholastic competence. This friend, overwhelmingly stressed by his public rank, admitted that because hierarchy creates scarcity (not everyone can finish in first place), his main motivator for academic success definitely was his position among competing students. This ideology therefore presupposes that results are prioritized over intentions in competitive assessment since students such as my Chinese friend are forced to worry about their position relative to others (results) rather than actually retaining purposeful information about the field of study they were initially interested in studying (intentions). Of course, I am capable of recognizing that my Chinese friend’s determination to outrank his fellow classmates is precisely what validated his acceptance to Babson College, the highest ranked entrepreneurship MBA in the United States. However, since his college debut, my friend has admitted that, with the public ranking system now gone, he has discovered a passion for entrepreneurship which he had never recognized in himself prior to his newfound intrinsic motivation.

Secondly, when comparing Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education to past readings, many differences and similarities in ideas, defense and structure arise to further comprehend exactly how competition should be viewed in various contexts. For instance, Hutcheon’s take on academic agonistics relates to Nelson & Dawson’s review of competition in education according to Greek history because both discourses explain the evolution of competition’s connotation over time. In Hutcheon’s explanation, the term agon is said to have originally meant the gathering of the People for societal events such as public sports. Likewise, Nelson & Dawson relate to agonand its original meaning by associating the key positive conception of competition to sports. However, in both texts, competition in events like sports is claimed to have shifted towards education, therefore creating an unnecessary struggle for students wanting to win a scarce prize just like in sports. This aforementioned struggle is what connotes competition in education according to Hutcheon, Nelson and Dawson, and is the origin of our word “agony”. Furthermore, the comparison between scarcity in sports and scarcity in education links Nelson & Dawson’s philosophical evaluation of competition to a reoccurring idea in my political science course: zero-sum games. In my opinion, one student’s stellar grades do not come at the expense of another student’s success, theoretically, because professors do not have a maximum of total points they can give to their many students. Granted, grades may be used as a meansto obtain veritable zero-sum prizes such as scholarships or jobs of high demand. Nevertheless, it is still possible for two students with identical academic records to apply for the same position, at which point measurable competencies other than grades will be used to distinguish the better candidate. This being mentioned, although I agree with Tiffanyma2018’s claim that pedagogical disadvantages of competition outweigh its advantages, I believe social comparison is a spectrum. In other words, in relation to Tiffanyma2018’s example of someone being jealous of a friend’s higher grade, I am inclined to think that a person’s degree of jealousy is relative to that person’s view on competition versus cooperation. For instance, a student who does not believe in scarce grades therefore would not have a reason to be jealous of a friend’s better scores other than pure social comparison. Personally, I honestly become more motivated when a friend sincerely congratulates me on my work than when I obtain better grades than this same friend. Consequently, I believe Nelson & Dawson’s philosophical review of competition is more relevant to assessment than Werron’s, since Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education studies competition in professional context, whereas Werron evaluates competition in the form of social comparison.

To conclude, by building upon Nelson & Dawson’s argument advocating moderation in scholastic competition, and by juxtaposing these authors’ article with external information, I have defended why I personally believe competition to be disadvantageous to learning in higher education. Nonetheless, I understand how my judgement may be biased as I am limited to myemotional responses to competition and social comparison. Therefore, would it be possible to quantify relative emotional responses to competition using a type of measurement (I am this muchaffected by competition)? If so, would we be able to objectively determine if competition is good or bad, as well as in which context?

Image Credits: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/inside_higher_ed/2015/05/college_admissions_offices_use_high_school_disciplinary_records_to_make.html

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