Opinion: Speak up or your grade will suffer

Students participate by raising their hands during Professor Michael Spurgeon's American River Review class. The ARR course is based around reviewing student submissions such as poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction etc. and active involvement is expected. (Photo by Cheyenne Drury)

The long awkward silence after a teacher asks for student volunteers is an all too familiar experience for many college students, and while getting people actively involved can be productive, it is often forced and anxiety-driven.

Mandatory class participation should be a part of K-12 course curriculum, but once the individual starts paying for their education it should no longer be a requirement and furthermore it should not count toward a percentage of the college student’s grade.

Professors should make it an expectation that their students add to class discussions but not an involuntary action.

It is not new information that this generation’s social skills are changing due to the increased use of social media and technological devices.

According to a controlled experiment carried out by a team of UCLA scientists, sixth grade students who went five days without any means of using social media or technological devices did exponentially better at reading human emotions than a group of sixth-graders from the same school who did not go without such.

It is then fair to say that for the healthy development of children in regards to social skills that class participation; more exposure to social situations, is a reasonable requirement and implementation in their educational journeys.

On the other hand once an individual reaches the college level they will have had over a decade of enforced class participation and will have been exposed to countless hours and situations in which they had to think on the spot and use their best judgement when answering questions.

Any education after high school is voluntary and generally speaking students are paying out of  pocket to further their education.

American River College students pay $46 per unit and to be considered full time a student must be enrolled in 12 units.

As a full timer that amounts to $552 per semester not including other fees and payments.

It is highly subjective to count participation as a percentage toward a final grade especially since there are so many ways to participate in a class beyond vocalizing an opinion etc.

Students can be actively engaged in a discussion through note taking, reading along with the material, listening to their professor or other students speak and by simply paying attention and processing the information.

There is also the issue of causing more tension and discomfort for students who are naturally more introverted and while speaking aloud is essential for building social skills, it does give an advantage to those students who are more inclined to vocalize their thoughts in a classroom setting.

In a recent study on core curriculum syllabi at Seattle University it was found that over 93 percent of their courses required class participation.

The study revealed that professors generally do not provide instruction on how to improve participation, the interpretation of student behavior is often times subjective and difficult to assess and it is hard to justify participation scores.

There were some suggestions for professors on how to create more friendly and comfortable environments for students to speak including having them speak on homework from the previous night which would allow them to have thoughts already prepared and even increasing the ‘wait time’ between the time of the question and the time of the response. 

Regardless of these helpful approaches it still remains problematic to make participation an area that is critiqued and counted toward a final grade.

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About the Author

Cheyenne Drury
Cheyenne Drury is a third-semester student on the American River Current, where she serves as the Editor-in-chief. She previously served as arts and culture editor and news editor. She is double majoring in journalism and photojournalism. She has competed in softball, cross country and track all at the college level. She was published in the American River Review, the award winning college literary magazine.

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