Assessing class participation is increasingly becoming part of the mainstream learning and teaching education experience for university students and instructors. This form of assessments most frequently falls under the category of continuous, formative assessment. In other words, it is assessment for learning. It is not a discrete assessment event, rather, it occur over the course of a given study period, with the aim of informing instructors about their students’ academic progress and comprehension of unit material. Assessing participation is also used as a way of encouraging student engagement with unit content and with peers, as well as to provide students with variety, in terms of the types of assessments and learning activities.
What is being assessed?
In general, assessing participation involves assessing students’ contributions in relation to learning activities where student engagement is measured. This contribution can take the form of providing comments during discussions conducted in tutorials and seminars in class or online, giving feedback on peer presentations, writing reflections, and participating in group work.
The process of measuring the quantity and quality of a student’s participation may be undertaken informally by the instructor or by student peers, or more formally through the application of an assessment rubric that specifies the criteria through which a student’s participation is graded. This can involve assessing the frequency (quantity) of engagement, and/or the value (quality) of the contribution. In most cases, the use of an assessment rubric is strongly recommended as it can be difficult to promote consistency, transparency and provide constructive feedback to students without a rubric.
Why assess participation?
Well-designed student participation supports learning and engagement. It can build a sense of community, promote greater learner accountability, and increase interaction, preparation and motivation. The continuous aspect of assessing participation can improve information retention and identify gaps in students’ knowledge. The provision of timely and useful participation task feedback can also provide the opportunity for students to absorb material and reflect on it over time (i.e., ‘spacing’, rather than cramming). Additionally, participation assessment provides instructors with the means to reward engagement during the learning process, which can serve as a powerful incentive and motivator for students to stay on track with their studies.
Where can I assess student participation?
Assessing student participation in a unit can occur virtually anywhere – in lectures, tutorials, in labs, studios, simulations, role-plays, and on field trips. It can also occur in groups, though all group work must include a component where students are assessed based on their individual contribution to the group assessment.
Is assessing participation right for my unit?
The first step in answering this question is to revisit the unit description and learning outcomes. Will assessing students’ participation in the unit provide you with information to determine if they have met any of the learning outcomes? In the unit’s other assessments, are students expected to do any of the following?
- Assimilate and apply knowledge in a collaborative manner?
- Discuss and communicate knowledge with each other?
- Develop and demonstrate skills/knowledge in a written and/or spoken discourse?
- Work in a team or group-based setting?
- Provide constructive commentary and analysis?
- Develop and demonstrate oral communication or other interpersonal skills?
If the answer to any of the following questions is yes, than it is likely that participation is a suitable assessment activity to add to your unit.
Strategies to employ when assessing participation
Provide Clear Instructions
Provide clear instructions in the unit guide about the role of all participants in the assessable activity (this can include a description of different types of activity participants if required, eg. facilitator, observer, reviewer)
Use a detailed rubric to assess participation in order to promote consistency and clarity during grading. Ensure the unit guide contains clear instructions covering the following points:
- WHY is participation being assessed? (i.e. Why is it important in this unit, specifically? What is it about the learning outcomes that makes assessing participation important or appropriate?)
- WHERE will participation be assessed? (i.e. In which learning activities? What are the explicit expectations?)
- HOW will participation be assessed? (i.e. What are the criteria? What rubric will be used? Who will be involved in the assessing?)
- WHAT tools and resources will be provided to students to assist them in preparing for, demonstrating their participation? (i.e. Participation preparation guide, response templates, exemplars)
Look at examples
Good practice abounds! Keep an eye out for what your colleagues are doing in assessing participation. Workshop your ideas and share them with colleagues. If you are unsure about your assessment design and implementation, you can always contact the Faculty of Arts Learning & Teaching Team, who can sit down with you and review your assessment. You can also visit the Faculty of Arts Community of Practice to see examples and resources (see Section 7: Rubric Design and Exchange, and Section 8: Good Practice)
Assess participation with student diversity in mind
Some students may feel anxious or uncomfortable contributing in a classroom or forum discussion. Conversely, some students may dominate discussions. Participation may not always be a reliable indication of students’ knowledge and skills. Some tips to encourage participation with understanding, empathy and cultural sensitivity:
- Open a discussion with prompts, rather than leaving it to students to initiate conversation. Have students take turns to comment, rather than leaving it to students to enter the discussion of their own accord.
- For face-to-face discussions, install a digital ‘comment box’ for the classroom during discussions so students can submit their input that way instead of directly addressing the class. The comment box can take the form of a simple Google doc, or can be a specific discussion forum set up for this specific purpose in iLearn. You can then refer to the collated online comments and include them during in-class discussions.
- Allow students some reflection or ‘thinking time’ to write down their intended comments before inviting contributions in face-to-face discussions. Provide the prompts in advance, so students can prepare their responses.
- Provide students with a guide on how you would like them to prepare for discussions before the come to a face-to-face class, or before they engage in online discussions. Making expectations explicit (e.g. via a discussion preparation guide or rubric) will alleviate students’ uncertainty and anxiety about participation assessment, and will promote more informed and targeted engagement.
Keep an eye out for future Teche articles on participation, where we will showcase exemplars in participation assessment from the Faculty of Arts! If you have a resource you would like to share, please contact the Learning and Teaching Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.