Saturday, June 4, 2011

Another Academic Issue

FLG questions the wisdom of weighing class participation more than say 5% in a grade. Look, FLG gets that professors want to encourage participation somewhat, but participation matters for his learning far more in a small seminar than in a larger lecture class. But in a seminar it's just kind of expected. Maybe it should be included in the grade then, but FLG still thinks not.

Maybe FLG is wrong on this, but in any case, here's the issue -- it encourages quantity, not quality of comments. The weight class participation in the grade is directly proportional to the number of inane and useless comments. This has a deleterious effect on FLG's learning experience.

Again, FLG will admit that he gets a lot out of the discussion in graduate seminars. But once the class gets bigger than 10-15 people, class participation is, on net, a negative to his learning.

5 comments:

Hilarius Bookbinder said...

Perhaps it's different at Georgetown, but 'class participation' is not generally used to measure class participation, if only because you're not going to give a zero to people who rarely say anything. It does permit a certain degree of latitude in assigning overall grades, however.

It also infrequently drives the volume of comments in a class: you'd need a classroom of student who want to maximize their grade and assume that the best way to do so is through sheer quantity of comments. This will describe some private schools, particularly early on in a student's career; most kids have figured out not to do this after a year or so. The ones who haven't will never figure it out, but they're also unresponsive to a higher or lower portion of the grade assigned to participation.

Also, these conditions generally do not obtain at public institutions, even the highly ranked ones.

FLG said...

"It does permit a certain degree of latitude in assigning overall grades, however."

I think that is the generally idea at Georgetown.

"The ones who haven't will never figure it out, but they're also unresponsive to a higher or lower portion of the grade assigned to participation. "

I disagree on this. They are very responsive.

arethusa said...

In my experience Hilarius is right about latitude in grading; the dedicated students won't have a problem with class participation, but often the weaker ones will. There are however a number of students, as FLG notes, who just shoot their mouths off. Sometimes these are weak students, sometimes they're smart. Professors do notice when kids aren't saying anything when they talk, and in my classes at least that counts against them.

Also, participation often stands in for "attendance," which many students today appear to believe is optional.

Withywindle said...

I don't want to give As to lumps. Class participation at 10% means they don't get any.

J. Otto Pohl said...

I used to weigh class participation very highly. Sometimes I weighed it at 25%. I did it for all the reasons mentioned. It included attendance which was a problem. I also had a real problem in getting students to discuss the readings. I had seminar classes with 15 students where nobody said anything for the whole hour. Often this was because they had not done the readings. Finally, I wanted to be able to subjectively alter grades, usually upwards. If a student came to class every session and demonstrated that they had done the reading I wanted to give them a bonus. I figured they deserved some sort of extra points. Too many of my students just wrote their papers the night before and otherwise did no work for the class.

Now, my classes are much larger. Officially the class I taught this semester had 85 students and my role was to give a two hour lecture once a week. I also had to grade a mid-term and final exam, but there were no points for class participation. A lecturer here can, however, deny any student that misses too many classes the right to take the final exam. Since the final is 70% to 100% of the grade attendance can be made to count in a big way.

 
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