Is It Wrong to Grade on Class Participation?

No, not unless you do it like a former adjunct of mine.

He was a motivated and passionate instructor who had retired from a successful career in industry and was now teaching college science courses on a part-time basis. What he did, or actually what he didn’t do, led to hours of my time to sort through and rule on a formal grade appeal lodged by one of his students. This occurred because the instructor counted class participation for 15 percent of the final grade, but he neither defined what constituted class participation nor gave students feedback on their participation.

The student submitted 3 ½ single-spaced, typed pages that seemingly detailed every time he had participated in class. Furthermore, he provided the name of a classmate who was willing to confirm all this and attest to the fact that this student participated more than anyone else in the class.

I shared this information with the instructor. His response was that none of this was participation. He indicated that the student came to class unprepared and asked questions, the answers to which he would have known if he read the assignment. The instructor also said the student was continuously disruptive and sarcastic with his comments during class.

Class participation is a valid and often times important type of assessment, but you need to be specific as to how you will grade participation. Furthermore, during the term, you should provide students with feedback concerning their participation. In my opinion, this should be no less than two or three times during the term. If you this sounds like too much work, then my advice would be don’t grade your students on class participation. It’s all your decision.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

Posted February 27, 2010


About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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