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Opinion: Up the Weight of the Class Participation Grade

When I received my syllabi for the new semester, I noticed some changes in a couple of my full-year classes. The weights of the class participation grades had increased. In my philosophy class, the class participation grade is now weighted more heavily than the final exam.

My immediate reaction was a sort of silent panic attack. Although I am a staunch extrovert, quick thinking is not my forte. I enjoy public speaking, but I am pretty sure I was subtly urged to quit my improv group in elementary school.

Class participation requires both skills. You must be confident enough to voice your opinion in front of a room full of piercing eyes and be able to come up with a cohesive answer in a short amount of time. Some people are talented in both categories, while others are lacking in one, the other, or both.

There surely is a case to be made for why class participation grades should not be a significant percentage of a student’s final grade. OZY made that argument this past week.

While I concede that students learn in different ways—the thought of speaking up in class can paralyze introverts—having the wherewithal to participate in class discussions is a necessity. Being able to communicate with other people and speak in front of an audience are skills that are valued in the workforce.

When you’re not good at something, the best way to enhance your skills is to practice. You may despise public speaking now, but by continuing to take risks and throwing yourself out there, you will get better at it.

No one else in the classroom benefits from students who sit there quietly and watch other people talk the entire class period. They do not add anything to the discussion and, to borrow a term from conservatives, are free riders. On the other hand, those among us who talk just to hear themselves speak are not a positive addition to the group, either. I would like to think that the professor does not consider that “active participation.” Only thoughtful comments should contribute to the class participation grade.

The class participation grade is significant because being able to write an essay about a topic and express those views in a discussion environment are two sets of equally valuable skills. And while only the author of the essay and the professor benefit from such written ideas, everyone in the class benefits from hearing those ideas in discussion.

Even though I am not a natural at speaking up in class, I plan to embrace the participation grade weight changes. The qualities I need to get an A are the same that will let me succeed later in life.

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Managing editor. Lover of history and all things 1960s. Lives by the lessons of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: "Don't dream it, be it."