Here’s an interesting article a friend shared on Facebook. The article has gotten a lot of likes and tweets, and commentators on the article congratulate the author, a professor of Behavioral Ecology at UCLA, for his wonderful brilliant idea.
His idea? He let his students “cheat” on an exam by letting them work with each other and with any other resource they wanted. The “meta” idea is that they’d learn something about behavior by how they take the test.
What would they learn?
I don’t know. The article is rather vague on the specifics, save for an idea any idiot should know, “If we all work together, we can do more.” That doesn’t mean working together is automatically a good thing, obviously; it depends on what people are trying to achieve. If two or more people are trying to achieve the same thing and lose nothing by another person achieving it, then, of course, work together. I think the human species would’ve died out long ago if humans didn’t innately understand this, so I fail to see anything very amazing or brilliant by exemplifying this in allowing such cooperative behavior to emerge in a set of unconventional exam rules.
The professor writes:
In the end, the students learned what social insects like ants and termites have known for hundreds of millions of years. To win at some games, cooperation is better than competition. Unity that arises through a diversity of opinion is stronger than any solitary competitor.
But did the students themselves realize this?
Is that supposed to be profound?
What really bugs me more than anything, however, is when the professor writes:
Is the take-home message, then, that cheating is good? Well…no. Although by conventional test-taking rules, the students were cheating, they actually weren’t in this case. Instead, they were changing their goal in the Education Game from “Get a higher grade than my classmates” to “Get to the best answer.” This also required them to make new rules for test taking.
What student’s goal is merely to “get a higher grade than my classmate”? Is the value of a D worth more if everyone else got an F? I think the goal for most students is to “get the best grade I can based on how much I value it.” Because, in the end, for the purposes of the student, the true worth of a grade is decided by himself, not a professor or an institution’s arbitrary rating system.
You see, you silly professor, your test was never a “game.” At least, not in the sense you thought it was. You do not get to decide what the students are playing for, so you never had control of the rules in the first place. The students have always been in control of the rules, because they’re in control of their own goals. The rules any educator establishes for his students are part of the educator’s goals, what the educators are playing for, what the educators want to do with their student’s grades and what they want those grades to reflect.
So I fail to see how the professor accomplished anything worthwhile.
If you want to accomplish something worthwhile, follow my education philosophies!