Don’t attend or participate. Contribute!

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.

3 comments to Don’t attend or participate. Contribute!

  • I’m curious how you set up the self-assessment. Is it simply an open-ended assignment or do you guide their assessment with questions? This is the kind of thing I’d like to introduce more into my classes, but I’m still pondering the best way to do it.

  • My instructions say (with links to the pertinent items):

    To do this assessment, you will need to review:
    1. Your record. Go to your Profile to view your Activity Reports and Forum Posts.
    2. The rubric at the Grading policies page.
    Go ahead and click “Attempt quiz now” to see instructions — there is no limit on the number of times you can come back into the Assessment.

    Then the assessment for the first half says (as a single essay question):

    After carefully examining the grading rubric, your logs, and forum posts, consider at what level and in what ways you have fulfilled participation requirements for the first half of the class. Please briefly explain:

    1. how many points (out of 10) you think you should have for this half of the class, and
    2. why.


    And for the last one:

    After carefully examining the grading rubric, your logs, and forum posts for the second half of the semester, consider in what ways have you improved or reduced your participation from the half-way point. Please briefly explain:

    1. how may points you received on the first Participation Assessment,
    2. how many you think you should have for this half, and
    3. why.


    • What kinds of improvement do you typically see between student’s self-assessment for the first half and their final self-assessment? Of course, there are always going to be students who reject the very idea, but I’m curious how you see this improving students’ self-awareness of their own work.