I’m an introvert. That’s not necessarily a positive or negative thing. It’s just the truth. I’m slow to open up to people I don’t know, and being around people all day is exhausting. Introverts, by definition, are drained by social contact and often find solace in creative pursuits. (Hi, I’m a journalist. Nice to meet you.) We are often perceived as shy, socially awkward, or even avoidant of social interaction. But that isn’t always the case. Many introverts are perfectly capable of socializing normally, we are just more accepting of silence. But when it comes to our grades, this can be problematic.
My least favorite day each semester is the first day of classes: the day we’re all forced to share something interesting about ourselves during ‘ice-breakers’ and form alliances with other students that will last the entire semester. It’s not that I don’t like people, that isn’t the problem (you can’t be a journalist and not like people, or at least not be interested in them). For me, it is just a matter of ‘warming up’ to people, a process of thawing, if you will. Except it takes me weeks to be comfortable enough to chit-chat with fellow students, let alone raise my hand in class. Sometimes I would prefer it if that ice is never broken.
We all have had classes where a dreaded phrase is brought up: Participation points. I see that phrase on the syllabus and internally I hear the theme music from “Psycho”, like Norman Bates is about to pull back that shower curtain at any moment. Except that in most cases, I’d rather face Norman than speak in class everyday. So why is participation even a part of our grades?
Students see that they have to engage in class and then they overcompensate for the sake of a few points. There’s always that one person in class who is the first to answer every question. I’ve had classes where other students go off on tangents that have nothing to do with the subject at hand, just for the sake of a couple of extra points. It’s a waste of valuable class time, particularly in eight week courses. Plus, these kinds of in-class conversations aren’t beneficial to other students. Which is probably why these are the classes I leave feeling like I haven’t learned a thing.
That isn’t to say that I haven’t had a class where these conversations are a great thing. I have, but in these classes, our discussions have been very insightful because they have stayed on topic. This kind of discussion is the trading of information between students, not just one person talking at the instructor to make an impression. And discussions like this are more interesting and give classes a lighter atmosphere. Look, I know no one wants to sit through a 2-hour lecture of nothing but Powerpoint slides. I don’t want to do that either. If students feel obligated to speak all the time, they are going to. But there has to be a balance and maybe doing away with participation points will help achieve that balance.
It’s extra painful for introverts like me. I pay attention in class, I hand in my work on time, I take extra careful notes. Why am I punished, or at least not rewarded, because my personality differs from those of other students?
College instructors are smart enough to know which students are paying attention in class and which students are texting or sleeping. If students like me hand in work, do well on exams, and are attentive, I should be getting good grades regardless of my unwillingness to speak at length about my dog in front of the entire class. Simply stated, graded participation is pointless.