Including Participation in Student Grades

What does “class participation” mean? If a certain percentage of a student’s final grade is for class participation, how does the student earn this credit? For some courses, it may simply mean attendance in class. For other classes, student contribution to discussions count as participation, which may be difficult for the instructor to track while moderating the discussion. Or, “class participation” could be a way for instructors to adjust grades to reflect their assessment of student learning, if the other graded material does not do so accurately. In any case, student participation must be translated to a numeric score to be included in the grade. How can student participation be given a numeric score fairly and accurately?

Participation questionsDr. Elizabeth Bucholz, Instructor in Biomedical Engineering, has asked students to self-assess their participation, three times during the semester. First, students were asked for their own estimate of their participation early in the semester. This early assessment helped prepare the students for future self-assessments, demonstrated the course expectations, and gave students the opportunity to adjust their own behavior during class. After the initial self-assessment, students filled out a midterm and a final self-assessment. The form asked students to include a detailed justification for their participation grade for the instructor.

Class participation included clicker use, participation in Piazza on Sakai, and asking questions and presenting solutions to problems in class. The diversity of ways to participate gave students several paths to success. Had Dr. Bucholz chosen to only to include in-class participation, students who are more comfortable talking in class would get higher grades than those less likely to participate in this way. Instead, students who preferred not to talk in class were able to be active in Piazza to contribute to the course and receive credit for participation.

Students were asked what score they felt they deserved for their participation and to justify their score in a paragraph. Students gave specific examples of their participation, which helped Dr. Bucholz give them full credit. For the initial and midterm self assessments, students were also asked what they would like to change about their participation, priming students to consider their own activities and setting them up for successful participation for the rest of the course. By comparing the student contributions, Dr. Bucholz was able to objectively adjust the scores given by the students.

On the final course evaluations, some students mentioned the self-assessment of participation as being motivating for them, as well as making them more reflective, thoughtful contributors to the course. One student stated that self graded participation was the best, giving several scenarios to justify this assessment: if students inflate their own assessment, they are forced to reflect on their own participation. If students grade themselves accurately, they are incentivized to try to participate more in order to justify their self- grade.

Self-graded participation helped encourage collaboration in the classroom and got students to think of each other as resources. Another student commented that this was the first course in engineering where cooperation between students was both explicitly stated as a learning goal and implemented in an effective way to achieve the goal.

Overall, Dr. Bucholz is very pleased with the results of the students grading their own participation as it puts the students in the drivers seat, and encourages self-reflection. She says:

Having them reflect on their own participation over the course of the semester motivated them to do better, to actually think about how they could engage more with the material and participate more in the class. Ultimately the higher level of engagement with the class helped solidify complicated concepts for the students and made the material more accessible.

Would she use student self-evaulations for participation again?

Overall feedback was very good and I’m planning on doing it next semester as well!

Read more about Dr. Bucholz’s teaching.

What about participation in on-line classes? Here are two posts that describe ways of tracking and grading student participation for online discussions:

Encouraging and grading student participation in online discussions part 1

Encouraging and grading student participation in online discussions part 2

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  1. Pingback: Article: Class Participation grading via self-assessment | University of Richmond CTLT Liaisons

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