Take your participation marks and stuff them


I hate participation marks.

There, I said it. I hate them, and they don’t just waste my time; they waste everyone else’s, too. They’re quite possibly the most pointless marks you can get in a class. Yet as I’ve progressed through university, they’ve just become a bigger portion of your overall mark.

I’ve never felt that instructors should mark participation, because participation should be a natural part of an overall engaging course.

What is an engaging course, you ask? For me, it’s a course where the professor clearly enjoys the material that they are teaching, and lectures in a way that passes on some of that passion to their students. It’s course material that makes you think and synthesize what you’ve learned. It involves discussions that happen organically if these preceding conditions are met.

I’ve never liked being forced to go to class, even in high school — where I probably skipped more days than I attended. I tended to avoid classes where the material or teacher wasn’t engaging, or if they covered things that I could more efficiently teach myself. There were only two classes that I went to regularly: art and history.

In both of these instances, the content was interesting and the teachers were amazing. Thank you, Mr. Lindell and Mrs. Johnson, for keeping me interested enough to keep coming to your classes.

Then I hit first year of university, where there was really no way to keep track of attendance or participation in lecture halls of 300-plus students, so I finally felt free to learn the way I so desperately wanted to. And I did.

My first year was filled with days where I just read the textbook and attended a minimal number of lectures. I successfully taught myself first-year chemistry and geography among other things. But then I advanced beyond first-year courses and transferred schools.

Reaching SFU was a shock to my system. Even larger lectures forced me to participate — thanks to the godforsaken iClicker — and there seemed to be some sort of hand-holding mentality that permeated through all aspects of learning.

While I see the allure of professors who care about you and how you’re doing in class, I find the forced participation and the attached marks smothering. It feels less like I’m actively learning, and more like I’m having to check certain boxes to reach a desired outcome, which strikes me more as passive learning.

As my mom put it, “It’s like group work in elementary school. There is always the one smart kid who ends up carrying the group and then everyone else benefits. But still, there is really only one person actually learning.”

I also don’t get people who try to counter my hatred of participation marks with, “But you paid for the class. Shouldn’t you go to get your money’s worth?”

No. I’m paying for the credits whether or not I attend, and the professor gets paid whether or not I’m there. If they want me to attend their class, they should focus on being a better lecturer or teacher, instead of just forcing people to come by having a significant amount of marks tied up in their presence.

Next time you hear me complaining about participation marks, it’s not just that I have to go to class whether I want to or not. It’s that, if professors actually cared about making a lasting impression on students, they’d do it through placing importance on actual learning, instead of on being able to sit in a room for four hours talking about nothing.


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