To Raise or Not to Raise My Hand

Kathleen Mackey, Editor-in-Chief

There are the students that are actively engaged in class, anxiously raising their hands every five minutes, and there are the students that merely want to exist as a fly on the wall. I’ve been both of them.

Every class environment is different. Some are very open and casual, while others are tense and rigid. Almost every course relies on participation, but my decision to raise my hand is very much dependent on the environment of the classroom.

Class participation is essential to a strong class dynamic and, more importantly, it provides the opportunity to discuss topics from different perspectives, which ultimately furthers students’ understanding of the material.

But, over the years, I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with this concept. I often wonder why my grade depends on how many times I raise my hand if I’m still putting in the work and understanding the material. At the same time, classes that consist of pure lecture and don’t offer a chance for discussion can be dry and lackluster. There’s really no easy solution.

However, forced participation can be detrimental. Class discussion should occur naturally and foster genuine conversation, rather than forcing meaningless thoughts spewed out by students for the sake of their grade.

When discussions are imposed on classes, my introverted self retreats and I start to panic internally. My eyes are immediately glued to my desk, and I am praying that I won’t be called on.

I understand that participation should count towards our grade, as it’s an effective way to incentivize us to be engaged in the class and keep up with the material. It’s a valid assessment of our knowledge and understanding of course content, but the weight of each course’s participation grade seems to be arbitrary.

I’ve had classes where participation isn’t graded, and I’ve had classes where participation is weighted more than major assignments that are more accurate evaluations of my knowledge. More often than not, I’ve found that I speak up more in the classes that don’t impose a strict participation grade.

For example, in my psychology class, a core class that I never expected to love, the discussions are often sparked by spontaneous comments rather than pre-planned material.

As a result, I find myself actively offering ideas, asking questions and feeling perfectly comfortable doing so.

More importantly, these discussions always strengthen my understanding of the class content because we dive deeply into the concepts.

I find much more value in these discussions, rather than the ones forced upon us, which often don’t lead to substantial or meaningful conclusions.Instead, they often distract from the important content of the class material by trying to force such responses.

Admittedly, there are times when I avoid speaking up in class because I’m not well-versed with the material. But, more often than not, I feel pressure to say something intellectual or correct-sounding.

Clearly, I don’t have the best track record, considering that I just tried to pass off the word “correct-sounding” as normal verbiage.

However, I do sympathize with the professor, and I can imagine how frustrating it is to have a room full of silent students with glazed eyes.

I have been guilty of being this student a time or two in my collegiate career, but it’s disheartening to look around and see disengaged students, ignoring the value that the class has to offer. There needs to be a way for students and professors to meet halfway.

With core requirements constantly overlapping with major classes, there’s no way to ensure that every student will be interested in the course material, and that’s okay.

If they’re still putting the necessary time and effort into the class, their grade should not suffer significantly from their lack of participation.

De-emphasizing class participation would not only alleviate some pressure on students to speak out in class, but it would also allow for class discussions to happen organically and thus offer significant growth in the class material.

Consequently, both the students and professor could benefit. Less coercion would lead to more liberated discussions, and there would be a stronger value to the course overall.