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Class Participation Grades in College Understanding & Navigating Participation Scores for the College Classroom

Getting a good grade in an online class is not just about passing tests and writing papers. Although students in online degree programs are not engaging with each other face-to-face, they may still be graded on their participation in a class. This guide is designed to help students understand what could potentially count toward a participation score and how to increase this portion of their grade.

Meet the Expert

Mark Harvey Graduate Program Director

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FAQ: Participation & Discussion Scores

Students may have questions about participation and discussion scores and how they are calculated. The following are answers to some common questions students may ask.

What are participation and discussion scores?

Participation scores are the grades students receive for activities such as online discussion board posts, blog comments and chats.

Why are students graded on participation?

Students are graded on participation because it is a way to help professors determine whether or not they have been keeping up with the reading assignments, and how well students understand them.

Does every college course grade participation?

It depends on the course. Some professors grade on participation for their classes while others do not.

What are the different types of classroom participation?

  • Attendance.

    Professors will do a roll call to ensure students are in class. If they don’t have an excused absence, it will count against their participation grade.

  • Class discussions.

    Discussions help students demonstrate that they have completed their reading assignments.

  • Small group discussions.

    These discussions allow students to talk about material in smaller groups and help each other understand the assignments.

  • Attention.

    Professors don’t just count showing up for class, they also want their students to pay attention to what’s going on in class. As a result, when students spend time on their phones or playing games on their laptop, they will get a lower participation grade because of their lack of attention. And students in online courses are not exempt from this. Professors can tell when students are not engaged in a discussion, even if they’re not in the same room with them.

  • Not disruptive.

    Students are expected to participate in class in a non-disruptive way. Talking over their peers, being rude, and interrupting the professor during a classroom session on Skype will not win any participation points no matter how well a student understands the material.

Do discussion and participation grades only apply to on-campus students?

Some professors calculate participation grades for their online and traditional students. It depends on the individual professor.

How to Ace Your College Participation Score

Since doing well in classroom participation requires a lot more than just showing up to lectures, students need to develop strategies for getting a good participation score. The following are some tips to help students ace the participation requirement for their online classes.

Use quality sources

“Use the online library at your university and draw from sources of high journalistic quality, or preferably, peer reviewed sources,” said Mark Harvey, Graduate Program Director at the University of Saint Mary where he teaches international political economy and global management.

People who do not feel comfortable with class discussions can practice in order to get better. For example, if they are required to respond to blog and discussion board posts, students can practice writing responses on their own to get used to composing thoughtful comments.

“Get involved in the discussion. Don’t view it as just an opportunity to post an essay and respond to a couple of peers,” Harvey said. “Read everybody’s posts. Respond to multiple posts. Challenge your peers in a friendly way. Debate people. Show that you really care about what we’re talking about.”

When students are reading the course material, they should take notes about the points they agree with, and create arguments about the points they disagree with. Also, taking notes helps students to remember concrete examples to bolster their opinions, which can in turn increase the engagement of the people who respond to them.

Asking questions demonstrates an interest in understanding the discussion topics. However, students should not ask questions just for the sake of doing it. The questions students ask should show a professor they’re genuinely interested in learning and clarifying information they don’t understand.

Supporting Introverted Student Engagement

Professors need to keep in mind that not all quiet students are intentionally neglecting their course participation requirements. For introverted students, class participation can be difficult, even if they are taking online courses. The following are some tips to help professors support students who are more introverted than others and increase their class engagement.

  • Examine ideas about introverts.

    Some people have the misconception that introverts are antisocial and do not want to talk to their classmates. Professors who harbor these ideas on any level may judge introverts more harshly as a result. It’s best to try to be more understanding of these students and work to ease them into participation instead of trying to force them.

  • Remember less is sometimes more.

    It’s helpful for professors to keep in mind that introverted students may contribute fewer words to a discussion, but those words may be more valuable. Instead of requiring a certain number of discussion board posts, professors should consider giving more weight to the quality of the posts that are made.

  • Cater to strengths.

    Some introverted students may excel in one area of participation over another, so it can help to give them choices of what kind of assignments they can do to meet their participation requirements. This way, professors allow students to build their strengths instead of regularly focusing on their weaknesses.

Tips to Increase Confidence in College Courses

It’s important for students to have a healthy sense of confidence in order to be successful in their coursework. The guide below provides information on how to boost confidence, as well as factors that can threaten the confidence of college students.

Participation Grades in the Online Classroom

Which activities count toward students’ participation grade can depend on the specific course and professor. However, below are some factors that may go into a course participation score.

Reading assignments

In order to have a meaningful discussion about course content, students must do the reading assignments. As a result, keeping up with class reading is the foundation that all other participation activities are built on.

In some cases, professors use blogs to provide supplemental information that is not in the reading assignments. Students may be required to respond to a professor’s blog posts or to create their own.

A discussion board is where a professor asks a question related to course material, and students are expected to respond to the initial post as well as the posts from other students.

Classes may have a chat area set up where students can congregate to have synchronous or asynchronous discussions with each other. This is also a good place for students to get to know each other as they talk about course material in a slightly less formal way than they would on discussion boards.

Many professors have a schedule of virtual office hours in order to provide students with the extra help they need to understand coursework. In some cases, this may count toward a participation score, so talking to teachers during office hours not only helps to build a strong rapport with them, it also helps to boost students’ class grades.

Instructor Input: How Professors Grade Participation in College

Each professor handles participation grades for online classes in a different way. In order to get a look at one teacher’s perspective, we interviewed Mark Harvey, Graduate Program Director at the University of Saint Mary, who shares his strategies and ideas.

What do professors consider when calculating online students’ participation grade? How do they weigh different class activities and what causes students to get a good participation grade versus a bad one?

For me, I use rubrics. That allows me to evaluate the quality and level of participation. I am looking for students’ ability to communicate clearly, to offer sources to support their arguments, the content of their argument, and their ability to analyze the issue. I am also looking for how often and what kind of quality responses students make. In addition, I like to get involved. I question and challenge students. If they ignore me, that’s not good. In fact, I would encourage any student to challenge anything and everything I say on a forum. Education should be a discursive process. Minimal or lack of posts or responses to peers also lead to bad grades.

What mistakes do students make when it comes to online class participation? How can these mistakes be avoided?

The top mistake is that students frequently treat discussion posts as an opportunity for them to share their opinion. Yes, students’ views and insights are important. But opinions without any foundation in reality or without any documentation have no value. Just because a student believes something doesn’t make it true.

What advice would you give to introverted students who may not feel comfortable participating in class discussions? What do professors do to support these students?

Online classes are an introvert’s paradise, particularly in an asynchronous format. Students can think carefully about their posts and responses and select their arguments carefully. They don’t have to respond spontaneously in real time to aggressive students. They don’t have to raise their hands and volunteer answers. I don’t think I’ve ever had an introvert have a problem in an online class. Having said that, the rules for online participation are the same as in a live classroom. There are times when you have to make yourself and your arguments known and heard. Unfortunately, American business culture discriminates against introverts, and those of us who are blessed with that orientation sometimes have to pretend that we’re not. The ability to speak out in challenging times is an important business skill.

What are the most important things students should keep in mind about participation in online classes?

As in all evaluations in any course, please realize that you may not get 100 percent for every assignment. Participation is not like a multiple choice test where if you get all the answers right you get 100 percent. In my book, and in many professors’ books, doing everything basically right at the minimum level warrants a C. If a student wants an A, they have to go beyond the minimum. They have to demonstrate not a basic understanding of the material, but a mastery of it.

Additional Resources for Online Student Success

For students to ace their classes, they need a toolbox of skills they can turn to on a regular basis. The following resources are designed to help students increase the tools and skills they have, so they can perform well in every area of their coursework.

  • Writing A+ Discussion Board Posts in Online Courses

    Writing discussion board posts is one of the ways that students can contribute to class discussions and demonstrate their understanding of the course material, which helps to raise their participation grade. This guide offers tips on how to write discussion board posts that impress professors, as well as examples of good and bad student posts.

  • Improving Study Skills in College

    Readers get pointers on how to improve their study skills from this guide. It includes information on how to take notes effectively, retain information from a course, and deal with the anxiety that may cause students to procrastinate.

  • How to Communicate with Your Professor

    Professors not only give students clarity about classroom lessons, they can also provide students with letters of recommendation and valuable advice about careers. This guide includes tips on how to effectively communicate with professors in order to build a strong rapport that will help students inside and outside of the classroom.