Participate in class? Make me.

Story by Alex Zank, Chief Copy Editor

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For those who have not had a class with me, I am really big into the participation aspect. There is a reason I do it.

My philosophy is that if I’m paying over $4,000 a semester to take classes and learn things, then I better make sure I comprehend the material. The best way for me to do that is by partaking in classroom discussion and asking questions.

Now that I’m a senior, looking back on all of the classes I took — and in many disciplines, considering I have two majors and a minor — one thing that was really lacking in the majority of my classes was the presence of an efficient in-class
participation policy.

Typically students can expect to see 10 percent of their final grade being decided by the vague concept of “classroom participation.” This usually equals two different outcomes:

1. Everyone gets an A because there is no set criteria; it ends up being a glorified attendance grade.

2. The people who talk an annoying amount (me) get an A and everyone else gets a worse grade.

I’m not suggesting we don’t grade participation. In fact, I think it’s important that students are.

The problem I have is that many classes lack an appropriate structure to encourage classroom discussion.

A class is much more enjoyable when there is a lot of student input, as long as it’s not primarily from that one pretentious kid who sits in the back and always has something contradictory to say (not me this time).

Professors can’t take all the blame — I’m sure educators have spent centuries trying to figure out how to get students to speak up — but the best way to fix this problem is to reform the way many of them grade participation.

The solution is not escapable, either. In fact, I have seen efficient ways to grade the category already.

I have experienced a few different models that are effective, but one sticks out in my mind, and it is the most complex grading system I’ve witnessed (this is a good thing).

We start at zero points and through the semester have been accumulating them to reach to a maximum 50 points possible (equivalent to one exam grade).

The professor marks down in class when we have thoughtful questions and comments and we can earn a certain amount of points each week.

We also have the option to post relevant news stories on D2L each week to earn a certain amount of points there as well.

As if that weren’t detailed enough, we also have classes budgeted for discussions of scholarly articles assigned to us. These are graded on their own, 25 points for each discussion including out-of-class work. These discussions are some of the best I’ve had in a class.

This system really works. Checking D2L under the “Grades” statistics, I can see that there is an accurate distribution. Those who participate in class and these separate discussions get high marks, and those who rarely speak get lower marks.

This means the grading system for participation is refreshingly accurate.

Now of course some students simply will not participate. That intrinsic motivation and desire to learn simply is not there for some. This is something that is nearly impossible to change.

What can be changed though is a better system of grading participation. And until some changes are made with more distinct guidelines, I will keep talking as much as I can to ensure that A.

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