Participation is one of those things that we all agree is important for learning. Because of that, many teachers have presented students with a participation grade, or told them that their participation factors into their grade. But how? It has often been one of those amorphous grades that instructors use to flex a student grade up or down, depending on how they think the student should have done. Some instructors have more concrete criteria, some less. Faculty Focus posted an interesting article about participation policies that got me thinking.
When we start talking about an open situation, or even an online one that might not be open, how would you go about grading participation? In many cases, it’s far easier to see how students have participated, at least in concrete ways. It’s online and if it is text, you can capture it (Storify, FlipBoard, IFTTT, RSS feeds). When it comes to audio, we are often recording it (as is the case for EC&I 831‘s Blackboard Collaborate sessions). It is much easier to go back and see who spoke up, who said what, who joined in.
The issue, then, is often not about tracking who participates. That isn’t always true, of course. Some students are going to consider private means such as emails, direct messages, one-on-one Skype sessions, ways that we may not see. But leaving those aside, it is still important to talk about what participation means.
In many of the online courses I work with, forum posts are counted for marks. Some are treated as writing samples, some as reading responses, but many are on the level of participation. That is, the important factor is to share something, comment on the posts of others. This seems pretty concrete because you can see if they did or did not post, can see if they did or did not comment. Obvious, right?
When it comes to online participation, it is worth being aware of some facts about general online participation.
If this is the type of participation students are used to, then we should consider that they may not really know what types of content they should be writing. What constitutes a post? What is appropriate for a comment? If we want them to do something differently, then we need to be specific about how they need to go about participating. It is easy to say that you need to ask questions in class or answer them. When online, what does that look like? What expectations do we have?
And what happens to the idea of being “present” in an online environment? Generally, just showing up and attending counts on some level for participation but when you are online, that can become a lot harder to see. Works great in a recorded chat but what about people who read blogs? OR follow Twitter? Or read the posts in a Google+ community?
I’m curious to see how others work through all this concept. To me reading can be participating, especially if things are structured in an open way where there are no strict requirements for participation. Responding to things that really produce a reaction rather than just responding to respond is important to me. I rarely feel the need to respond just to respond. At the same time, I know the value in feeling like someone is actually reading an engaging with what you write. It can be a hard balance to strike. I’m still figuring out exactly where I fall on the concept.