HERE!… for the grade

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Photo: Melissa Henrie

With the new semester here syllabi are being handed to us at the beginning of every first day of class. As we look through the pages we bypass the classroom procedures, the assignment details and head straight towards the brass tacks: how we are being graded.

Depending on the professor and section, there are assignments, essays, tests and that one crucial percentage that can either make you an A student or a C student: the “required” participation. Some professors make it a small fraction of your final grade. Maybe 5-10 percent. But some are so strict they may make it upwards of 15-20 percent. In my time at UVU, most—if not all—professors had this grade as part as their final scoring.

Now, I understand that most of the learning happens inside of the classroom, but I also can’t help feeling like I’m back in high school again. There, we were kids. It was required by law to be in the classroom, otherwise our parents would be called and we would get grounded or other such chastisement.

In college we are treated like adults. It’s our responsibility to either come to class or not. College is the perfect environment to learn about cause and effect. Choices and consequences. If you don’t go to sleep at an early hour, you’ll be tired the next morning. If you don’t get a job, then it’s Ramen Noodles for you.

But in the classroom there’s a three way relationship: you, your professor and your grades. What you do or don’t do will affect the very thing you’re here to get: a passing grade. Professors have every right to set the certain expectations of what he or she considers a passing grade. But do they have right to have their students come to class day in and day out?

As stated before, consequences are continued to be taught here at university. If we show up to class or not will have a certain outcome associated with it. Let’s talk about those consequences for a second.

Without an attendance grade the student will be punished for not having the necessary information required in order to pass the future quizzes and tests. With an attendance grade, a student will be rightfully punished by not getting that knowledge. But at the end of the semester those absent attendance points create a hole in their final grade. Isn’t it enough to not gain the knowledge you need to succeed without the extra punishment of the attendance grade?

Another element associated with this grade is “participation.” Understandably, a better learning environment comes from an energized classroom with discussion of ideas. But there may be one or few students that don’t say anything. It may seem that they are coasting through the class without making any real effort at all. Or maybe the reason for their self-exclusion is because they are introverted. I, being one of them, don’t always feel too comfortable verbally expressing my opinion in a crowded classroom. Some learn more by observing and that’s okay.

One can argue that by participating with debate and discussion an introvert can be break out of their proverbial shell. But I would argue that no one is asking that opposing extrovert to become an introvert at the same time. An equalized teaching method would be to accommodate to both of these types of students without penalizing one or the other with methods such as group and online discussions.

Judging by the number of students who gradually disappear as the semester trudges along, the requirement isn’t working. What would work is a real reason to make the effort to trek from home to the seat. Whether it’s an assignment due in class, a tempting issue being taught that was teased at the end of the last class period or an interesting, charismatic professor, a student needs to be motivated rather than threatened.

Although I’m consistent in showing up to all my classes, just ask any of my past instructors-it’s not the main reason for that effort. Yes, the participation points comes with it but also the fear of missing out on crucial assignment details that would affect my overall performance. I’m not an over-achiever by any means. I just don’t want to be in the classroom for the rest of my life. My habit of attendance is only a bonus to what I would be doing anyway.

Not all students have this kind of motivation. Sadly, other priorities take precedence over classroom learning. It is also possible that some don’t learn as well in the structured classroom. If a student is better off learning from a textbook, they should be able to without the threat of those reprimanding points. Textbooks—a mandatory and pricey expense which doesn’t get utilized enough can be just as helpful to some introverted students as the open classroom is to extrovert students.

I’m not saying that there are no good merits of having an attendance grade, just that it should not be the motivation for adult college students to have. If you have an opposing view, please write in. We would love to hear it.