College Success & Survival @ UNI

Joining the Discussion in Class by alcdanielle
October 15, 2010, 11:56 am
Filed under: Freshmen, General | Tags: ,

From a Former Freshman

It may not seem like the most exciting activity to take part in, but it is very important. Most professors do not have the chance to get to know you individually. However, if you join the discussion in class often, then they will be able to know you through your ideas and thoughts. This isn’t high school. Most professors won’t force you to participate and share in class. You either do or you don’t. It is all up to you.


Even though it may be tempting to sit back and let other students handle the discussion in class, you should not do this. You can only get out of a class what you put into it. If you don’t challenge yourself to participate, then who will?


I know that some of you have no problem speaking up in class, and I applaud your ability to do so. However, there are probably some of you who, like me, are shy and do not feel comfortable speaking to a whole classroom. While speaking in class may become a challenge for you, do not give up trying. I’m still trying to talk aloud in class more often. You don’t need to talk all of the time in order to participate. It can be as simple as asking your professor a question, or answering a question that your professor has proposed. You don’t have to talk extensively, just throw your ideas out there (when they are appropriate, of course). It may be tough at first, but you will eventually get comfortable with it. The important thing is to try your best. If you have done that, then you have done well.


From an Upper Classman

Our Former Freshman and Professor both make some excellent points about piping up in class—but don’t forget about the points you lose by staying silent! Check your syllabi—many professors will devote a certain percentage of your grade to “participation.” Don’t panic if this isn’t your forte, though. Participation can be a great way to demonstrate to the professor that you’re serious about the course material. If you’re proactive about speaking up in class and offering valuable insights into the material, some professors will be kind if you’re only a few points away from that A at the end of the semester.

Remember, however, this only paints you in a positive light if your participation is both relevant and respectful. Resist the temptation to talk for the sake of talking—if your comments are too far-reaching or irrelevant, both your classmates and your professor will feel like their time is being wasted. Show your dedication with comments that come from a thorough knowledge of the material, rather than wild conjecture.

How do you accomplish this if you’re shy, though? Well, relax for a moment. No one expects you to give an impromptu critical lecture. Help yourself out and take notes while you read. Mark passages or topics that are of particular interest to you, that challenge you, or that make an assertion you might or might not agree with. Take some time to outline your reaction to the passage in the margins. Do you agree or disagree with the author’s claims? What evidence can you pick out of the text to support your argument? If you’re diligent about taking these notes while you read, you’ll never have to stumble over words to find something to say in class again. Treat your notes as talking points, and use them to create a lively and interesting discussion with your classmates. This way, you’re not only demonstrating your academic prowess, but being an academic consumer—by participating in class, you get to tailor the discussion to an area you’re interested in and learn more about that subject or concept! I can’t think of a better way to get the most out of your education.


From a Professor


You should know that your professors see you as academic scholars. And, academic scholars are expected to share their ideas and knowledge. When you don’t participate, you are perceived by some professors as selfish or apathetic. You are selfish in the sense that you only take ideas from others without contributing your own knowledge and expertise. Everyone has knowledge and expertise in something; when you decline from sharing that with the class, you deny the entire class and professor access to your knowledge and expertise—while you benefit from what they share. This affects the entire class by making the experience less rich and diverse than it could be. So, share your ideas. Being shy is not an excuse. However, some professors may accommodate shy students by providing online discussions on Elearning discussion boards. If this is the case, be sure to use the online discussion to give voice to your ideas.

In addition to being selfish, some professors see non-participants as not caring about the course material or as unengaged and unmotivated. They assume that students who do not share in class do not care enough to take the time to read and engage with the subject matter. If you remain silent in class, you risk being seen as merely taking up space and going through the motions of the course at the very lowest level. This is not the impression that you want to create. Take the time to prepare for class by reviewing previous notes and thinking about them critically. Ask yourself how the material relates to your experiences and what you have known to be true. What could you share with the class about these experiences? What remains unclear to you? Chances are other students have also found these concepts difficult to understand. How do the notes compare and contrast with the readings? What ideas came to mind while you were reading that you could share? If you have written them down in the margins of your readings, you will have them readily available to use in class discussions.

It is also imperative to be courteous and respectful of others in class discussions. Listen closely and openly to what everyone has to say—and politely ask for clarification when you do not understand the point being made. Do not interrupt others. If an idea occurs to you while they are speaking and you are afraid you will forget it, jot it down to share later. And, while it is important to share and voice your opinions, avoid being the know-it-all that has too much to share and keeps others (including the professor) from sharing important ideas and knowledge. Let others have a chance to share their ideas.


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