Most of us want students to be engaged in class, but how do you:
- Define participation?
- Record and grade it?
- Provide meaningful feedback on it?
Those are the questions addressed in an article on participation policies, written by Maryellen Weimer (professor emerita at Penn State Berks and editor of The Teaching Professor newsletter).
Problems With Participation
According to Weimer, most syllabi offer “vague descriptions that don’t functionally define participation.” Moreover, instructors often assess participation “at the end of the course with little or no mention of criteria.”
To address those issues, she recommends clearly defining what counts as participation and how it is defined.
That got me thinking about my own policy. In terms of defining what counts, I specifically state the following in my syllabus:
- Attendance and participation are NOT the same things. You need both.
- Participation grades consist of: expression skills, attitude, perception skills, and regular contributions.
- Participation includes civility and professionalism.
The clarity I provide may be a good step; however, after reading Weimer’s article, I realize I can do better by providing feedback on those aspects (rather than just providing a grade for participation).
Who’s in Control?
In her article, Weimer also makes the case for giving students some control over their participation grade, such as asking students whether they prefer to be called on or to volunteer. She also recommends that students record their own participation to discuss it later with the professor.
She adds: “If we believe the research that being in control increases motivation, maybe that and freedom from the fear of being called on might encourage some students to speak up.”
What About You?
We want to hear from you. Comment below to share your stories or your thoughts on the following:
- Does Weimer have it right?
- How do you define and grade participation?
- Do you provide feedback about participation?
- How much control should students have?
- Should large lecture classes have different policies?
Remember: Your ideas may just help a colleague prepare for next semester.
About the Author: Emil Towner is Assistant Professor of Business Communication in the Marketing Department.