Class Participation

From Gerald R. Lucas


As Einstein suggests, this is not about necessarily about the facts of the world, but what a mind does with and beyond those facts that is the realm of education.

Participation.png

The classical model of education was born in the nineteenth century, and it was designed to maintain the cohesion of a global empire without a system of immediate communication. Therefore, formal education attacked this problem through homogeneity. If everything thought the same, then the empire could function anywhere without the need for immediacy. The needs of the empire produced an efficient system of education to support the empire.

We all know this system very well: it’s not about students becoming individuals, but about them becoming cogs in the wheels of industry and empire. In it, teachers stand in front of the students who are all sitting in regimented grids of desks. The teacher is the one in possession of the knowledge, and the students are the empty vessels in need of filling. They sit passively and listen, scrawling notes that will form the basis of the “knowledge” they will then regurgitate to pass the exams. A successful student will eventually graduate to join the “real world” as an obedient citizen ready to do his duty for king and country.

The empire has fallen. The world has advanced. Education must change to meet these new realities.

Discover and Engage

It’s one thing to sit quietly and observe, like you would a film at your local cinema. It’s quite another to be active in your role as a student — to take responsibility for your education by engaging the ideas presented in class in a thoughtful and critical way. The college classroom is a unique environment, one in which all ideas can be examined and hashed out. Part of learning is being wrong, of reconsidering and reevaluating conventional ideas, of asking hard questions and attempting to reconcile traditionally held beliefs with the new ones you are certain to hear in the classroom.

Currently, we have unprecedented access to information — perhaps overwhelmingly so. Today’s problem is not lack of access to information, but the vertigo at confronting so many facts and opinions that their boundaries seem to blur while our anxiety increases. While communication, storage, and recall used to be ponderous tasks, with the ubiquity of digital devices, cheap storage, and connectivity, getting and sharing information is no longer an issue. This fact does not make our lives easier, necessarily.

Participation means using all the resources at our disposal to increase our knowledge of the subject matter. These resources should be open for anyone to discover.

In this class, participation means (1) to discover entry points into the subject matter, and (2) to engage with the community. In other words, participation is about engaging the materials in a way that adds to the conversation, growing both individual and community understanding.

There are many ways to participate. You should pick the ways that you find most comfortable, but allow yourself to take a risk occasionally. For example, some students like face-to-face debate, while others prefer written communication. The goal of participation is not only an investigation of the course material, but an effort to build a strong community through conversation, debate, and shared responsibility.

While participating — especially in literature and humanities classes — you might hear ideas that are offensive to you at first. This is part of higher education, and is a healthy thing. Do not let initial, knee-jerk reactions get the better of you; the place to engage these ideas is the college classroom. Getting offended and shutting down is the worst reaction you can have to the new. We are here to be exposed to new ideas; this is how we grow. Frankly, where else in our overly sensitive culture will we be able to do so? Therefore, class participation is of the utmost importance and will weigh heavily in the evaluation process.

Your class participation grade is worth a certain percentage of your entire grade (see your syllabus) and will be determined as follows:

  • Breathers: You come to class, but your attitude, body language, and/or attention span shows you would rather be somewhere else (1–4 points)
  • Lurkers: You come to class, but little else (5–9 points)
  • Observers: You listen respectfully and are prepared for class (10–13 points)
  • Contributors: You surpass the role of Observer; you offer insights, ask intelligent questions, and get involved in and out of class (14–17 points)
  • Scholars: You surpass the role of Contributor; you ask critical questions, demonstrate independent thinking, and improve the quality of learning in the classroom on a regular basis (18–20 points)

In this class, there are several ways to fulfill this requirement.

Participate

The following are ways that you may participate in and out of class this semester. Be sure that each submission is as strong as you can make it.

Attendance

You must show up prepared for class with your materials. Missing more than a week will negatively affect your grade.

Discussion

Consider discussion our effort to present our formal findings about the subject matter. Traditionally, this was about writing essays or research papers. While we will use many of the same skills we would in those old media forms, our research will not be static or long-winded. Discussion emphasizes focus and revision; it will take place in online forums.

Forums

Our daily communication and discovery will often take place on a digital platform of some sort, especially in online courses. Consider this platform a place to share new discoveries, expand our understanding of materials, and shape our thoughts about our findings. You can also DM me.

Research & Response

These are the chief activities for students in the liberal arts. Research and response are the foundation of the educated citizen and will be emphasized in every classroom lesson.

Do Well

It is really easy to do well in my class.

Outcomes

Your participation grade will be negatively affected by:

  • Coming to class without your assigned readings — in book form, printed, or on a tablet (not a phone);
  • Texting or otherwise engaging in activities that distract you or your classmates;
  • Arriving late or being unprepared to begin promptly (see attendance policy on your syllabus); and
  • Sitting passively with an empty desk. If you make me ask you to take your materials out, you’re demonstrating your lack of engagement in the course and suggesting that you do not take it seriously.