How can I assess participation?

How does it align with the module Learning Outcomes? Does it assess or practice skills and knowledge that are key to the discipline?

Often assessment of participation is little more than a means to ensure students are ‘visible’ (Gourlay, 2015) or as a punitive response to falling attendance, and has little tangible alignment with the learning outcomes.

However, IF communication in a seminar/group environment IS one of your module/programme learning outcomes, this could be assessed summatively by a set task within the seminar where specific criteria is developed: e.g. a debate, a mini-presentation

These tasks can also take place online where students have time to prepare (e.g. Lai , 2011).


What do I need to consider about assessing participation?


a).  Designing the assessment:

  • What do you define as participation? Handing in work- completed at home/online or in the class? Reading ‘hits’ through KEATS analytics? Contribution to discussion? How many times should students speak? Is quality or quantity more important?
  • Do you give a percentage for each seminar or over time? Or an overall holistic grade? How do you keep records on this? How much contribution over time is fair to make a judgment on a particular grade/criteria?
  • How to ensure that the dominant or confident student doesn’t get a higher grade than the more facilitative one?
  • In a large class, how practical is it for everyone to contribute?
  • If using detailed rubrics, how do you ensure that all students know and understand the rubric?
  • If you don’t use detailed rubrics, then ‘participation’ can become a box-ticking exercise which encourages superficial engagement with learning material, e.g. at its worst, how many times does a student speak.
  • If requiring students to hand something in for a percentage mark, do you have a process for mitigating circumstances?

If you ultimately feel participation must be summatively assessed, here are some example rubrics for grading and general advice to ensure as much fairness and consistency as possible:




b). Administering the assessment:


  • Do you have time to mark homework/contribution? If work is not marked or marked within a reasonable time frame, students can quickly become demotivated to complete it.
  • How will you provide feedback on their participation?
  • Who is grading? GTAs? Module leaders? If GTAs, is this included in their pay/role description?
  • Does the same person always teach the seminars on large modules? How can you ensure parity?
  • Who deals with MCFs for late homework contribution or non-attendance?
  • How will you record the information? How and when will you provide it to students?


c).  Resources:

  • How will you ensure the teacher can simultaneously facilitate discussion, adapt to class needs, respond to questions etc, while simultaneously assessing students against criteria?
  • On Teams, recording the seminar can help to ensure objectivity and address the above issue. Is this practical? Will you require students and teachers’ consent?
  • If you require ‘homework’ or handing something in, does this add to the allocated marking hours of staff /GTAs etc? (see b. above)



Recommendations to increase participation without assessing!



  1. Design formative specific tasks/problems/questions or other active learning strategies within the seminar to engage students, evaluate learning and provide opportunities for feedback, rather than just ‘discussion’. Students might not be engaging because they feel the seminar isn’t structured and they are just expected to ‘talk’. See Active Learning at King’s for a range of ideas.


  1. Assign a percentage of the module grade to seminar attendance (Marburger, 2006). There are potential pitfalls with this and it is not inclusive; however, it is at least objective and can be quantifiably measured. This could potentially be a mitigation to freeriding in group work as in this case study.


  1. Teaching on Teams has shown us a wide range of ways to consider ‘alternative’ means of participation: gifs, emojis, padlets, polls, chat box, breakout rooms etc.



  1. Tutors/facilitators can make some notes on student contributions for formative feedback at the end of the seminar. This can be group or individual.


  1. Have students self-assess their own contribution; for example, give them a quick survey or have them develop their own, or fill out an exit ticket evaluating their own performance in the seminar (Knight, 2008) and:


  1. Have students formatively peer-assess discussions using rubrics, or if students develop their own, this can help to facilitate discussion around etiquette, dominance, extreme views online. You could have students do fishbowl discussions (where students watch and evaluate another group’s seminar in class or in breakout rooms on Teams).


  1. Give students more control over what happens in a seminar. g. letting students run their own seminars (Gbadamosi, 2015).


  1. Introduce a process element into your teaching where unassessed/formative tasks are set for students throughout the module (online or in class) and they choose the best 2 or 3 to put forward for their small percentage assessment grade. This will still require some planning and a sense of understanding of what is expected, but students are given more ownership and ‘cumulative learning’ (Sadler, 2009) is a more meaningful demonstration of achievement by the end of the module.