A Place for Competitions in Education?

Some rights reserved by Mark McLaughlin

Some rights reserved by Mark McLaughlin

…and not the general concept of competition between students (such as the annual Derbot challenge); I mean competitions organised and judged by third parties, but still in the same field as a student’s area of study.

Would encouraging students to seek out and enter such competitions, provide valuable real-world exposure to their intended occupation, or unnecessarily restrict the boundaries of their learning and divert attention away from their studies?

Not wanting to sit on the fence, I would argue that they can be very beneficial – particularly within the creative disciplines, where they seem most common.

A prime example is the Dare to be Digital game development competition, which is squarely situated within higher education.  Each year students from various universities spend an intensive Summer working as game developers. Participants gain direct experience, under industry leading mentorship, and with creative freedom that they might not see again until well into their careers.

However, it doesn’t need to be that structured.  The website gamecareerguide.com offers fortnightly challenges that could be adopted and reflected upon in the classroom.

The majority of examples are the traditional prize-focused competitions, in categories such as art, design, animation, film, photography, and creative writing.  One possible point of controversy is that many require an entrance fee; although this can vary considerable from relatively high to a reasonable admin fee.  Where there isn’t a fee they are often variations on crowd-sourcing – where a company with a new product or event hopes to get both promotion and a design at the same time.

A problem could easily be the rarity of a student’s particular interests or assignments aligning with a competition. Would there be anything wrong in a graphic design student tasked with creating a book cover, picking a theme that matches a competition?

There are often financial incentives in these competitions; but being able to include a ‘competition winner’, or something actually in use, in a portfolio, could be a greater benefit.

2 thoughts on “A Place for Competitions in Education?

  1. We encourage students to compete and certainly Commercial Photography has had a number of successes e.g. the Tetley Competition and D&AD. However, we have to always be aware of copyright issues some competitions even big ones ask for total control over copyright of winners some even of all entrants! The other type of competition which we avoid are those where someone is trying to get something for a low fee e.g. choice of images/logo for a £50 prize. It is often better to students to get practice with real clients and charge slightly lower than going rate as practicing rather than giving away their work. So competitions yes but we need to be aware of the pros and cons of individual offers.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences David, and you’ve raised an important point in checking the terms and conditions carefully. The point about low-prize competitions reminds me of sites like 99designs – which run like competitions, but have a very different objective in mind.

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