Today I went through my grading pages and everywhere changed the word “participation” to “contribution”.
At the half-way point and again at the end of the semester, I ask students to do a self-assessment. Both together are worth 20% of the class grade, and it’s here where I “grade” their discussion forum posts. In these self-assessments, some students admit that they’ve done little to help others, or haven’t posted much in the forum. A few critique my class, saying they shouldn’t have to participate in a forum, they don’t like posting, they don’t think what their colleagues post is helpful, blah blah blah.
Of course, my forums are no longer “discussion” or “reflection”. It isn’t enough anymore to just “participate” — students must add content to the collection, and their own interpretation of a portion of that content in the form of a historical thesis. The expectation that they help each other has been there, but it’s not explicit unless you reference the grading pages.
Studies have shown that this generation of students will need to be able to create things and work in groups, including in an online environment. They need experience at teamwork. But even without this sociological stuff, there’s the old adage that you get out of an experience what you put into it. What they put into my class can’t just be their own private work shared with me. That would be fine if I were a tutor at Oxford, but I’m at a community college with 200 students starting each semester. We must help each other, whether it’s trendy or not. We must create our own norms, feed each others’ minds.
I know some professors who mark a student absent if s/he’s sleeping in class. Aside from the arguments about sleeping in class (sometimes students need to, and I don’t wake them up or take offense), the idea is that if they aren’t awake they can’t listen. Listening isn’t enough.
So, students! What are you bringing to class that will make class better, a more vibrant learning environment? Being a good audience? As a professor, I have tired of planning moving and engaging scenes and acting them out, hoping for a good response. Who am I, Shakespeare? This is education, not a Restoration comedy. Coming to class prepared to watch by reading the play ahead of time is good, but in what way are you taking part?
The “Participation Assessment” is now a “Contribution Assessment”. The grading rubric now says “Contribution to the Class” as the column heading instead of “Participation”. A small change in language, yes, but I hope it will emphasize that I expect my students to contribute to the class rather than merely attend or simply participate.