Class participation

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The aim of assessing class participation is to encourage students to participate in discussion, and to motivate students to engage with background reading and preparation for a learning session. In addition to assessing students’ disciplinary knowledge and understanding, assessing class participation can also be used to encourage and reward development of communication skills and group skills such as interacting and cooperating. Participation can take different forms – face to face; online; written; spoken; as groups; as individuals, or a combination thereof. There is a clear difference between attendance and participation – attendance is often a requirement and should not be part of a student’s assessment mix whereas participation involves actively contributing to specifically developed class activities.

Advantages of class participation

  • Encourages students to be active participants in classroom activities and encourages them to take responsibility for their learning.
  • Encourages students to prepare for class.
  • Encourages students to reflect on issues and problems that relate to the class.
  • Enables students to demonstrate their communication and presentation skills through their interactions with peers and teachers.
  • Fosters students’ analytical skills and their capacity to critique ideas and concepts in a supportive environment.
  • Supports students in developing their collaborative and team-working skills.

Challenges of class participation

  • Some students may not participate fully in the learning and teaching activities for a variety of reasons – shyness; cultural and/or language issues; class dynamics; learning disability, and individual personalities.
  • Students may believe that assessment of class participation is overly subjective.
  • Students may express opinions and use language that is discriminatory.
  • Assessing class participation is hard work for a teacher working alone as they need to both facilitate and assess the session.
  • Supporting the engagement of students with conditions such as social anxiety disorder which might hamper their ability to publicly contribute.

How students might experience class participation

Class participation may occur in a number of ways – through in-class questioning; individual and group activities, and even online participation. The teacher may pose questions, most commonly relating to a reading students have been asked to read in preparation for an open discussion, but their main role will be to facilitate the discussion between the students. The teacher might pose questions, calling students at random to provide their answers. Students could also be tasked to work in small groups to provide a solution to problems or scenarios posed by the teacher. This solution could then be presented to the whole class who then respond with questions. Students may even participate online using some of the techniques above.

Reliability, validity, fairness and inclusivity of class participation

Detailed rubrics need to be developed that not only state the skills that are being assessed but describe how these skills might be demonstrated at different levels. It is vital that the marking criteria are clearly explained to the students. Preparatory activities can include a writing element based around the types of questions that the teacher is going to pose in class and which the student can read from in their responses rather than having to respond spontaneously. Teachers can introduce a brief free-writing period after the question is posed eg. 3-5 minutes of silence during which students write their initial thoughts down. An asynchronous online activity can allow students to think through their responses not pressured by having to listen to those students who might respond more readily and dominant the interactions. Teachers can implement a card system that allows students to make a set number of responses on a card, which they hand in at the end of the session. One-to-one sessions with students to discuss their participation can be useful, particularly if teachers enable students to identify the reasons for their lack of participation.

How to maintain and ensure rigour in class participation

Establishing ground rules in advance may help maintain rigour, but marking criteria and standards need to include grades that reflect not only non-participation but participation that has a negative effect on others. It is also wise to have some form of moderation discussion in advance when a number of teachers are assessing class participation in the same course. Templates are available in this resource that illustrate the range of ways in which you can assess participation. Consider how the marks will be moderated (can the course convenor sit in on one session with each tutor?) and how the external examiner will be able to evaluate the assessment process.

How to limit possible misconduct in class participation

The nature of this form of assessment means that there are very few opportunities for academic misconduct. Where students have to contribute online or as the result of group work it is important that the differences between collaboration, which you might want to encourage, and collusion is discussed.

LSE examples

Further resources

Eden Centre (when TLC) notes of guidance on class participation including: outlines of the different modes of class participation – whole class discussion, cold calling, collaborative and group discussion, online discussion; strategies for assessment, including assessment by the teacher, peer assessment and self-assessment and an overview of some of the issues that should consider when implementing class participation activities.

Implementing this method at LSE

A LSE student-led research project offers insights into the student experience of assessed participation (see p5).

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