Class participation grades – fair or fraudulent?

Bethany Woodhead
Writer

Is it unfair to ask students to “get over” their social anxiety, or is it a necessary skill for the world of employment ahead?

Most degree courses assign a certain percentage of the final grade to “class participation” or “course contribution”. For the most part, this requires students to have a high attendance to lectures, tutorials and seminars, as well as involving themselves in class discussions and excelling in an assigned presentation of some sort. Is this an unfair procedure which singles out the extroverts from the introverts, or is it the University’s way of trying to teach us the social skills necessary for the world of employment? Some might even go as far as to say that it is an administrational fraud by the University to bump the overall success rate of their graduates by handing away grade percentages for practically nothing.

In part, the conspiracist inside me is shouting that it is all a huge scam and the University wants to secure approximately 10% of students’ grades by claiming it is legitimately some sort of test. And perhaps they are able to do this by failing those students we all know the names of from the tutorial register, but have never actually seen before in real life – those who do not even bother to turn up to sit in silence let alone to share their ideas. The University relies on these people to balance out their grading hack. Nonetheless, the optimist inside me reminds me that this institution surely has my best interests at heart and everything put in place is purely for my benefit. Right?

For me, fortunately or unfortunately, I fall into the extrovert category. Despite being a first year, I happily bumble into new seminar groups with a big smile and some witty banter – ready to make friends and discuss the course. Yes, I’m that person. I’m not immune to the fears of meeting new people, though – it is daunting and speaking up can be unnerving. So, I understand completely that the reason people often show up to seminars and sit in silence for an hour is not because they are disinterested or bone-idle, but simply because they are shy and nervous. From this perspective, having a chunk of your grade depend on whether or not you can get over social anxiety is unfair and very frustrating. You got the grades to be here, so you clearly have the intellect and the ideas, but being forced to voice them can be petrifying.

Nevertheless, tutorial and seminar groups are often very, very small in number and in a couple of years time, each of us will be thrown out into the open world to find our own way. We will have to navigate our way through society without a hand to hold, and so learning key social skills is absolutely vital. The University is surely doing its job by gently coaxing us out from our comfort zones. We have it pretty easy, to be fair. We are in a small room with people in the exact same position as our own, who we will see every single week for at least a semester, and a tutor who wants the best for us. Once we head into the sector of employment, this will become a lot harder.

I’m not saying we should all be forced to speak up at every opportunity. But the majority of my own seminars are made up of a tutor asking a question, everybody sitting in absolute silence while the tutor pleadingly looks around the room, desperate for somebody to talk. Then it usually falls upon me to spark some sort of discussion. I sit and wait for somebody else, because I don’t want to be that intimidating little know-it-all who barges in and stomps over other people’s ideas. I’m quite the opposite! I grapple to pull ideas from others, I ask questions and compliment the opinions people share… I love to listen! But there is no use in wasting time all sitting in silence when we could all unlock a world of imagination and theory right in that tiny room. Sometimes that can be frustrating to me, because I am sharing all my ideas and questions and yet the tutor will likely pass us all as having “contributed” to the course, even though I felt like I was the only one who actually put some effort in.
So, if you’re reading this and recognising me or my counterparts, give me a smile or roll your eyes, but please let us all in on the brilliant ideas you have to share, too!