Guide To Teaching and Learning

Attendance and Participation

Faculty learned ‘flexibility’ in their experiences teaching during the pandemic. Flexibility can mean allowing open or flexible deadlines for submission or work, allowing for multiple revisions/submissions so that students can demonstrate improvement and learning or alternatives to ‘attendance’ and ‘participation’, e.g, use of a Canvas discussion board or posting/contributing in hy.pothesis or Mural. Most importantly, faculty should communicate that their approach to assessment is to help students learn the materials, even if it means students need to slow down and/or make multiple attempts.

Student participation benefited in online instruction from the ability to use Zoom chat and/or the Canvas discussion board, especially for English language learners and those who are reticent to speak in class. When students need to wear masks, it can further impede their willingness or ability to participate in an in-person environment. 

Faculty are encouraged to consider how these and similar tools such as Mural and Google docs can be adapted for in-person teaching and learning to provide a more equitable learning environment for all students and to promote ease of participation.

Attendance and Participation 

When faculty require attendance and/or participation as part of their grading rubric, what are they intending to assess and how does one really measure ‘participation’?

Given guidance that encourages students to stay home if they are feeling ill and also the mental health challenges that many of our students are experiencing, how can you assess ‘attendance’ and ‘participation’ and should you try? Are there alternate means of participation you can offer to foster student engagement and learning? And how can you communicate to students why their attendance in in-person classes really matters?

Attendance is easy; you can see if they’re there. But you can’t necessarily see if they’re engaged. Unless they ‘participate’. But why should a quiet student or a student struggling with language be penalized for lack of ‘participation’? Bias is inherent in evaluation of ‘participation’. Is ‘participation’ the faculty member’s perception that a student has spoken or contributed and how reliable is that perception? Are ‘better’ students perceived to be more active ‘participants’?

Even if it’s not part of the ‘grade’, you can promote participation by using multiple means of student engagement beyond full-class in-person discussion to promote and deepen student learning. These could consist of:

  • Speaking or shared writing on a google doc in pairs or small groups
  • Analysis of a text, image, or audio in small groups, reporting to the class
  • Identifying the different qualities of an object in pairs or groups, reporting back to the class
  • Whole-class chat in Zoom, possible during either in-person or online instruction
  • Whole-class posting a comment, observation, argument or analysis in Canvas discussion board

New School faculty reported they saw an increase in participation while teaching remotely. The tools that promoted that participation can–and should–be retained in both in-person and online classrooms, e.g.,:

  • Shared google doc
  • Canvas discussion board
  • Mural and Miro
  • Zoom chat 
  • Slack and other collaborative software

Some ways of assessing ‘participation’:

  • Ask students to define what participation means for your class. 
  • Ask students to assess themselves. For instance, give them four to six statements about their engagement and participation on a four-point scale (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree). Then ask them what grade they should receive for participation. 
  • Ask students to assess each other, using similar methods.

The suggestions and guidance here are informed in part by James Lang’s article, Should We Stop Grading Class Participation?, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, April 9, 2021, and by Beth McMurtrie’s article, How Should Professors Evaluate Class Participation?, in the Chronicle’s Teaching newsletter, September 20, 2022.

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