Currently at the institution that I study, we have class participation which is enforced (more or less) by making it a significant percentage of the final grade.

For instance, one of my classes has participation as 20% of the final grade. We are marked on the basis of how much we participate each class on a scale of 1 - 5.

Question: Are there any research papers which show (or don't) that having a high participation weight causes a majority of the class to repeatedly participate?

My Observations.

Based on the two classes I have been in where the participation weight has a significant impact on the final grade (>20%), I have noticed that the same people (more or less) talk each class; the majority of the class does not participate at all. Furthermore, the "discussion" is not a discussion but rather a question and answer with very few follow ups.

Thanks for your time!

  • 7
    I'd be really annoyed by such an enforcement...
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 11, 2017 at 18:53
  • 1
    Do you want to know if it increases discussion, or if it increases productive discussion?
    – ff524
    Jan 11, 2017 at 18:56
  • @ff524 Ideally, I would like to know if increases productive discussion.
    – Jeel Shah
    Jan 11, 2017 at 18:57
  • @MassimoOrtolano: Pretty much every non-technical course I took at my undergrad in here in the U.S. had some form of participation grade. To be honest, it's less annoying than it first sounds -- the courses I took that had it were by design discussion-based courses, so if you didn't want to talk you didn't bother taking it in the first place.
    – tonysdg
    Jan 11, 2017 at 21:35
  • 1
    @tonysdg When I was a student, in my country, there was no such thing as a non-technical course in the curriculum of an engineer. Nowadays there are a few (luckily not too many).
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 11, 2017 at 21:40

1 Answer 1


It is of course difficult to judge objectively whether a discussion is productive, but there is some literature on the subject.

A 2010 review [1] on classroom participation in college says about graded participation:

Course policies on participation as set by the instructor also impact student participation. Berdine (1986) and Smith (1992) suggested that whether or not students participate depends on how much their participation counts toward their final grades. The “pearls of wisdom” approach where students record their participation each day to count toward their end of semester grades was found to be effective in increasing participation in the assessed course and reported to increase participation in other courses (Junn, 1994). Fassinger (1995a, 2000) suggested that students should earn extra credit rather than counting participation as part of a student's grade, and Boniecki and Moore (2003) and Smith (1992) found that rewarding students with extra credit did increase participation.


Mandatory participation (Dallimore, Hertenstein, & Platt, 2004) and calling on students, even when they have not volunteered (Auster & MacRone, 1994; Dallimore et al., 2004) can both be effective practices for encouraging participation. However, Moguel (2004) noted mixed perceptions of cold-calling, and Karp and Yoels (1976) noted that this happens in only about 10% of classroom participation.

The paper by Dallimore, Hertenstein, & Platt [2] mentioned above uses a student survey, and asks students what they thought was effective at improving classroom discussion:

A questionnaire was administered to students on the last day of the course. We asked students to respond to questions regarding what professors do or say that: (a) increases student participation and (b) either increases or decreases the effectiveness of the discussion.

Some students cited graded participation as increasing student participation:


(This is part of "Table 1 Student Responses Regarding Quality of Participation and Effective Discussion Factors")

However, they used cold-calling alongside grading participation, which students seemed to find important:

Notable in Table 1 is the fact that graded and required participation is a major category that emerged for both quality and effectiveness. Respondents repeatedly identified the importance of graded participation, suggesting that instructors should "make it a significant part of our grade." When asked what a professor says or does to increase the quality of student participation, grading and requiring participation were regularly mentioned (including responses which would be considered cold calling according to our definition). For example, one student observed, "the fact that professors call on most students to answer a question increases my incentive to prepare [thus enhancing discussion quality]."

A more recent study [3], also using a student survey, found that in a survey before the course,

43% of students surveyed indicate they participate more when participation is graded.

After the course (which had required, graded participation), a little over 40% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement "I participated more in this class because participation was graded":

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(Table 5)

and roughly 30% of students said they participated more than in other courses:

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(Table 6: Participation Comparison: Current Course to Prior Courses)

[1] Rocca, K.A., 2010. Student participation in the college classroom: An extended multidisciplinary literature review. Communication Education, 59(2), pp.185-213.

[2] Dallimore, E.J., Hertenstein, J.H. and Platt, M.B., 2004. Classroom participation and discussion effectiveness: Student-generated strategies. Communication Education, 53(1).

[3] Paff, L.A., 2015. Does Grading Encourage Participation? Evidence & Implications. College Teaching, 63(4), pp.135-145.

  • 1
    Does any of those studies asked the students if they considered useful for their learning being "encouraged" to participate through grading?
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 11, 2017 at 19:47
  • 2
    @Massimo I don't remember whether this was in response to a specific question or an open-ended question, but students did say they prepared more for class because of required participation in class. (I'm not a social scientist, but to me, "Was this useful for your learning" doesn't sound like the kind of question they ask on such surveys.)
    – ff524
    Jan 11, 2017 at 19:58

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