Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

The stressful fight for participation points

Audrey Buckley

Exclusively relying on being called on in class for participation points can be challenging, especially in large, lecture-based settings with over 100 students. When participation is a large percentage of a student’s final grade, they may face difficulty gaining credit through active discussion. 

Scrambling to add to in-class conversations is not reflective of the work students complete independently. Going into the next academic year, UT professors should reexamine current methods to log in-class participation points by encouraging student involvement while reducing constant call-outs. For example, professors can measure engagement using forums like Instapolls and Canvas discussions rather than forcing students to rely on being called on in large classes.  

William Schwartz, a professor in the Department of Neurology, explained his approach to grading student contribution. 

“I’ve had the experience that there are some students who are quiet and they show up,” Schwartz said. “They do great on all the graded assignments. If somebody is there and quiet and taking it all in, I don’t want to penalize them for that just because it’s a personality.”

How often a student raises their hand to ask a question or add to the conversation is not an accurate portrayal of their participation. Often, if a student is being present, actively listening or observing classroom discussion, they’re demonstrating an equivalent level of participation. Methods online such as Instapolls and discussions allow students to contribute and show knowledge without the stress of being called out. 

“I use it as a way, for example, if someone’s on the edge, then the class participation might make a difference with a couple of points,” Schwartz says. “I think the general sense of it is whether they contribute to the community of the class.”

Currently, some classes heavily weigh participation points, sometimes even making it 20% of the final grade. With this grade distribution, professors are unable to gain a fuller picture of how well students understand course concepts beyond tests.  

Communication and leadership junior Chloe Robbins shared her experience with different forms of participation-based grading. 

“I feel like it can kind of be a struggle,” Robbins said. “Sometimes I have the feeling of, ‘Oh, what if I say something wrong, or what if others think this is a stupid question …’ It’s hard because I feel like everyone is fighting for these points (and) it’s so hard to get called on.” 

When students are fighting for points and battling to be called on in large class environments, they tend to focus more on simply speaking up rather than adding value to the conversation. 

Encouraging class participation helps students grow, but certain methods — such as being called on — can do more harm than good. Active participation looks different from student to student. 

UT professors should prioritize opportunities where all students can show class engagement. Speaking in class should help those who choose to do so, but should not hurt others whose contributions differ. 

Gannon is a journalism freshman from Houston, Texas.

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