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October 1, 2007

Scoring Class Participation

We remember it from our own student days:  The social costs of volunteering too often in class.  At some schools, it was even common to play @#$*@ bingo, where the names of talkative fellow students took the place of letters and numbers on a bingo card.  At the very least there was some social pressure not to offer opinions during a lecture.  Now, as professors, we see things from the other side as we try to get our students to discuss policy issues  freely in class.  Certainly, there is the occasional student who talks too much, but the larger problem for law teachers is more often getting anyone to venture an opinion.  This is especially true in large lecture classes where a broader discussion would be a good change from the usual routine once in a while.

From what I have seen, law teachers employ three basic approaches to this problem (where it exists):

1)  Ignore it, and simply lecture without student input.

2)  Rely on the tactic of calling on students specifically, rather than seeking volunteers.  This is especially common with the straight Socratic method.

3)  Provide an incentive to volunteer, such as making it a part of the grade in the class.

The third method is the most pro-active, but requires the professor to keep careful notes, and injects an additional measure of subjectivity into the grading process. 

Is there a better way?

-- Mark Osler

October 1, 2007 | Permalink


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Participation points often supplement final exams, which are typically graded anonymously. I fear that student participation points are a recipe for allowing bias to seep subconsciously into the evaluation process.

Posted by: Anupam Chander | Oct 3, 2007 2:25:53 PM

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