We often hear students complaining that professors treat them like children by requiring attendance and/or class participation. “This isn’t high school” is the standard argument. It’s true, they’re not kids anymore, but here’s the reality: demanding participation and attendance is actually treating them like a member of the work force.
Nobody wants a class that’s all lecture, so I’ve made class participation worth 25-30% of the grade in most of my classes. My policy is based on 20 years of business, PR/marketing communications, and journalism experience. I teach from the trenches – it’s about what’s happening in today’s competitive business environment. I’ll trust my more academic colleagues support my war stories with scholarly research.
My job is helping my customers/investors – my students – develop the skills, mindset, ability to learn, and work ethic demanded by employers. Requiring class participation and attendance is treating them as adults, and holds them responsible for contributing like one. I expect them to ask and answer questions – show they’re prepared by getting involved.
In business, you can’t blow off a day of work and get the notes from a colleague. Employees are expected to show up for work (on time) and make a proactive, value-added contribution. If they’re going to miss work (or class), they tell the boss before, not the day after they failed to show up.
On most jobs people accrue 10-15 vacation/personal days per year, but many companies won’t let employees take one during the first three to six months.
At school, each class session makes up about 4% of our total meetings for the semester. Miss three sessions of a class and that’s about 12% of the job not done. No employer allows that – you’d be fired even in a good economy. You can’t show up for work only 90% of the time and expect to stay employed.
I give students two “personal” days off. They can use them as sick days, for athletics, vacation days, (they can even feel too healthy to come to class!)… almost anything goes! They simply have to notify me at least an hour in advance – as long as the syllabus doesn’t say “no excused absences” for that particular class session. For each unexcused absence, I will deduct four points from their course grade.
As with a job or sports, students are part of a team in class, and are expected to pull their weight to help make the class lively and interesting. Here’s a business world truth: Unless you appear to produce more in value than you cost the company (salary, benefits, team moral, etc.), why would your employer keep you on the payroll?
Participation means proactively starting and making value-added contributions to discussions. Sitting in class and taking notes isn’t participating. I teach communications courses – I expect students to communicate. Employees who just show up at a meeting, stare at their phones/laptops, and take up space are not going to stay around for long.
Like work contributions, class participation is competitive – it’s about quantity and quality, so participate early (first mover advantage) and often. Just as they’d compete for raises and promotions on a job, they’re competing for grades in class. That’s part of getting then ready for life outside of academia.
Students should never fear speaking up. It’s my responsibility to make sure that the opinions expressed, and questions asked, are always treated with respect, particularly when it challenges conventional thinking or especially my own beliefs. Students need to be comfortable making mistakes here in an educational environment, so they won’t make them in the unforgiving business world. Participate. Be there. Be here.