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Point/Counterpoint: Should the U of A have participation marks?

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Pro Participation Marks

Participation marks are easy to get. Just showing up to class goes a long way to getting a good participation mark. Add in putting your hand up once or twice per week and there’s your A+ in participation. This doesn’t even mean you have to say anything that’s well-prepared or even do the readings. Literally put your hand up and serve some vanilla-flavoured bullshit, and you’re good.

I’ve had classes where participation marks count for 25 per cent of your final course grade — that’s equivalent to a major essay or an exam. It seems ludicrous to me that students leave marks like that on the table. With participation marks, you control your own destiny — you don’t know exactly how a given prof will mark, or if your assignment has exactly what they’re looking for. Participation marks are, for the most part, a known quantity. If the prof knows your name and nods along to the odd comment or two, you’re in business (not the program).

I’m coming from the perspective of an arts student, with the majority of my classes having under 30 students. I can understand the frustration of a student in a large engineering or business lecture that would kill to answer an easy question in class for participation grades. Oh, and if getting full participation marks in class means buying a TopHat membership or an iClicker, that shit is wack.

I can understand that people with social anxiety dread participation more than pretty much anything else, but I think profs understand this. For most of my classes, profs with large participation requirements have called on everyone in class, and actively attempted to include them in conversation. Also, some participation marks are online-only — students need to only participate occasionally in eClass forums to get their marks.

Also, this is coming from the perspective of a student who has never had a bad experience with participation marks. So take what I’m saying with a grain of “cis-white man” salt.

If nothing else, students can choose to absorb a bad participation mark score and up their effort elsewhere. As someone who, frankly, didn’t give a damn about homework marks in math or stats, I chose to absorb bad marks there, and depend on my test-taking ability. Does this make me an excellent student? Of course not, but I think full schedules can force students with other commitments to make similar decisions.

Whether you’re the perfect Dean’s List student, one with crippling anxiety, or one who is a master in the fine art of making it sound like you know what you’re talking about, participation marks are a gift. Take them.

— Mitch Sorensen


No Participation Marks

I’ll admit that if participation isn’t part of the grade, I’m not the most active contributor to classroom discussions. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say or that I’m disinterested in what’s being discussed, but rather that I think someone else will blurt out the answer by the time I finish thinking about it.

I get that participation marks have been engineered specifically to force me and others like me to step out of our comfort zones and delve into lecture debates even if we’re not sure we have the right answer. They’re made to encourage students to “make a positive impact” in class and “increase the level of comfort” they have with voicing their opinions in a dead-silent room. And they work — if participation marks are involved in any capacity, you can bet I’m raising my hand at least once or twice a class.

But I still hate them.

Because dammit, sometimes I just don’t want to have to collect my thoughts in a semi-presentable manner and say them louder than a whisper in a 9 a.m. lecture. Sometimes I just want to be able to sit quietly, adopt the role of the fly on the wall for an hour, and take in the thoughts and opinions of the other people in the room — the professor, and students braver than I — than sit in trepidation constantly thinking about how I can respond to what the prof just said in a way that can earn me my full participation marks.

You might be wondering, then, why I don’t just avoid registering in classes that have participation requirements. Aside from how sucky it would be to have to turn away from taking otherwise cool classes on the basis of my participation aversion, I have required classes to complete to get my business degree that, from the outset, demand pretty high levels of student participation. So much for the opt-out approach.

If I do have an answer I’m confident in, I raise my hand in classes even when participation marks aren’t awarded. I offer that answer to the class voluntarily because I really do want to know how it measures up. But more often than not, when I’m doing it for the participation marks, my answers don’t come out of a genuine place — they’re the product of educational coercion. That’s what I hate the most about graded participation. But the thing is, even having said all of that, I’ll still be playing into the “active discussion participant” rules in every class that demands it.

— Victoria Chiu

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