The first thing I wrote in my INTD notebook this semester was “blog post idea: class discussions feel like competition rather than sharing of ideas.” I came across this note I left myself after I read Zach Southcott’s blog post, “The Difference One Class Makes.” Zach’s post addresses how much we, as students, grow and expand from each other’s ideas, and it reminded me of what I’d written earlier in the semester. Zach’s post was pleasing to read because it reminded me of how much my feelings towards group work have changed.
I mentioned my issue with academic competition in one of my first ever blog posts. I am choosing not to provide a link to it because it’s not a great piece of writing and doesn’t explain what I want to say well, so I instead want to explain it now. When I refer to “academic competition,” I don’t mean determination within academics, and I certainly don’t mean academic competition between a student and themself. Being determined to improve your own schoolwork is a wonderful thing, but I think it becomes toxic when students focus on getting better grades than each other. The purpose of an education is to learn. That’s it. It is not to learn more than the person sitting next to you. Besides, numerical grades don’t always accurately depict what someone actually knows. That’s a separate issue and a conversation its itself, though, so I’ll get back to my point: competing with your peers for better grades is frustrating, toxic, and silly. So when people ask me what my grade was so that they can assess their own grade based on mine, a fire lights up inside me and I just answer with a passive “I did well” or “I did not-so-well.” The grade that another student receives should not change how one feels about their own. Either you are happy with your knowledge, or you want to understand more. There are exceptions to this, like when assessments are unexpectedly difficult or easy, so it’s not always a disingenuous “what did you get?” but most of the time, it feels like it is.
The competition that I see between students is amplified and put on display in group discussions and work. Students often end up drowning out each other’s ideas, reluctant to be submissive enough to really hear the other’s point. The goal seems to be to get their idea out or down on paper, instead of to develop it and share it for the sake of sharing and educating. I’m guilty of this myself, too, so I don’t mean to incriminate students who are competitive with others. We were almost taught to be this way. But, I am criticizing. It’s a bad mindset to have and it inhibits learning. However, my whole point here is that this INTD class has exhibited how students can share ideas without competing with or crushing each other’s. It’s really refreshing, and I hadn’t realized how much my outlook on the matter changed until I read Zach’s blog post.
In his post, Zach described a day of group work as “having more of an intellectual discussion on what to put into our finished product.” Not only did he compliment the discussion, but I sensed a tone of unity in the way he referred to the work him and his group were completing. He seemed to have pride in the work not only as his own, but as something him and his peers accomplished together. That is the goal of group work! It is not to see who is the most aggressive or intelligent, but to combine ideas to make a point in the most effective, cohesive way possible. Zach also added that students in this class push each other to become better writers, which I completely agree with. At this point in the semester, I think I am able to disagree with, give credit to, and learn from my peers. Our group conversations are genuinely aimed at explaining our own thoughts and attempting to understand each other’s, rather than prove to each other or to Dr. Beth that we are right, we are smart, and we are the best, individually. Rather, we are proving those things as a collective! Together, we are smart, creative, and have a lot to offer.