Class participation: bigger than just a percentage of your grade

Audrey Allman assisting in class
Audrey Allman assisting in class
Freshman Audrey Allman assisting Professor Benjamin Alexander in his Epic and the Person class.


Second semester is here. Franciscan University students are back from Austria and courses are well under way. There are household commitments, sports, ministries, papers and readings, and it just seems to be piling up.

On top of all of these various and sundry activities, there is class participation.

“There is definitely a danger to letting students do too much, especially because we don’t know what we are talking about,” said Therese Sanchez, sophomore humanities and Catholic culture major. “But they, our professors, let us talk, which is nice.

“But then sometimes in Honors there are people who have clearly not done their readings, but are going to voice their knowledge to us anyways. Thanks for taking three minutes of our class and talking about yourself.”

Sanchez is among the many Franciscan students who have had similar experiences.

Joey Cavello, a sophomore theology and philosophy double major, said, “Class participation can get out of hand if the teacher doesn’t calm down really inappropriate questions for the lecture. Some professors like to entertain those questions, which can be frustrating. But in general I do enjoy when students are able to participate.”

Class participation does not have to be painful, but when someone monopolizes the whole class discussion that class period is like super-sweet lemonade, giving nutrients but with a highly-concentrated dose of diversions.

Although these moments are not often, they should help students take a second look at what is going on in class. Investigating the question of “what” and “why” of class participation is important.

“It’s risking yourself to speak and to talk and to engage with someone,” said Benjamin Alexander, professor of English, concerning why he stresses class participation.

“You don’t know when these moments will come,” he continued, “these moments of epiphany, when something is said, noted, when there’s a real break-through and it’s not necessarily something on a test. It’s something you remember all your life. It could be one sentence or one scene that crystallizes everything.”

This engagement moves beyond seeing the 8 a.m. class period as a very early and hard endeavor.

In a college setting, classes are great opportunities to come to a deeper knowledge of the material at hand as well as how this knowledge can be integrated into everyday life.

Logan Gage, professor of philosophy, said, “I do not give a grade for class participation, but participation is especially important in philosophy.

“When you leave my class,” he said, “I do want you to know some particular facts about Plato and Aristotle. But I really want you to have begun to think about the world in a deep way – to begin to wonder at the world and to evaluate the various ideas that come at you in books, articles and movies.”

The various majors and minors that are available at Franciscan have their own unique ways of involving the whole class. The goal? Not just another grade that adds up to your overall grade. Rather an interaction that urges students to go further and dig deeper in the class, in themselves and in the world around them.

Active participation can mean a variety of things. For some professors, it is not included as a factor for grading. For others it can be just what a student needs to get a B instead of a C.

“The way I grade, I reserve 5 percent of my grade for my own evaluation,” said Edward Kovach, associate professor of computer science. “In other words I look at the 95 percent other and then base it on that. … if someone hasn’t done as well, but they participate and come in for help then I’m willing to push them up. If they’re on a borderline, I will push them up. In my own philosophy of learning I do an active learning.”

Kovach went on to explain what he means by active learning.

“If they ask me questions it’s empowering. Not only am I able to answer their questions but it’s just a good interaction. It’s not like I’m talking to a blank wall.”

Good interactions are key. Empowering moments usually cannot happen when distractions abound.

Sophomore English major Julia Premus said, “Even though class participation is so important, a lot of people don’t participate. I think they assume attendance covers it just by their being there.

“But they can benefit by participating and so can the rest of the class,” Premus continued, “because when there’s the atmosphere of communication between everyone there’s going to be more learning as well.”

Kovach addressed the balance that is needed in his classes because of their content.

“It makes it a lot more fun and they learn more (when it is interactive), but the disadvantage to that is when you do a lot of it, you can’t cover as much material. So there’s a balance.”

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