One size does not fit all: Learning styles vary; class participation points fail to acknowledge this

At the beginning of a new course, students are given a syllabus that provides a grade breakdown for the class. While participation points may be seen as a good way to earn points, others look at the rubric with dismay. Being graded based on how many times one talks in class can be a struggle for students who are more introverted or take longer to make sense of new material. Although class participation can be an effective form of education engagement, tying it into a grading system is problematic because it does not take into account all different types of learning styles and personalities.

It makes sense that a liberal arts university such as Baylor would encourage discussion-based courses. In many cases, a student can learn things from the insights of the person sitting next to them. That being said, every student must have the ability to contribute in the way and time in which they feel most comfortable without fear of consequences if they don’t.

Participation points present the danger of disproportionately favoring more talkative individuals. Students who feel more comfortable talking in front of people or confident in their answers will get rewarded. This does not, however, guarantee that all insights will be particularly useful to the class. In fact, as it sometimes happens, questions and comments can actually slow down the pace of a lecture. If the forms of participation are valuable to the understanding of material then the interruptions are well worth it, but if they are done in hopes of getting a few extra points for the week, then the system has failed.

It is also a matter of learning styles. Learning should not be restricted by a one-size-fits-all approach. There are students who do best by talking out their understanding of the material immediately but, conversely, there are also students that work best by listening. These students are not lazy. They just have a different approach to analyzing information for later use.

From an educator’s standpoint, it would make sense to pose an incentive for more students to contribute to class discussions as opposed to just “lounge.” After all, if the same people talk in class all the time, how will the teacher know what students do and do not understand? This is why encouraging participation as a central course element is not a bad thing. It’s just when you put a number on it that it can undermine the purpose of providing a rich and equal educational environment within a class.