A Few Words on Check in the Box Participation

You say a comment. The TA marks it off. You remain silent. The TA doesn’t move his or her pen. So goes the participation points system at the esteemed Wharton School of Finance. Most classes at this institution factor in some sort of participation grade, but every professor has a different style of what participation points actually mean.

The lazy classes focus on sheer quantity to make up the grade. Regurgitate those easy case facts, points. The peculiar classes have fellow students rate each other. The good classes makes you want to contribute regardless of the subjective points system.

Practices where you get a point for speaking no matter what don’t really value the actual comments. In this scenario if participation occurs congratulations is in order because the case was read. Or maybe you just skimmed the reading to say something to get that TA to put a nice little checkmark by your picture in the seating chart.

I do not fault our fellow classmates in this scenario, especially those going for grades, to comply with such a system. Unfortunately the incentive structure dampens the actual mood and purpose of discussion.

If we are to remain having this check in the box tenacity after each person speaks, a fair adjustment would be to award points to those who speak at a decision point with no clear answer, rather than explaining what happened in the case.

Why have a participation grade in the first place? Well, it’s done purely to incentivize you to come to class prepared and incentivize you to take part of the discussion instead of looking at your phone under your desk.

However I reject the notion that a participation grade is necessary for you to come to class prepared. If you need some sort of score instead of the willingness to learn, you are going with the motions to secure the arbitrary grade and not necessarily the knowledge. You are an adult, if you don’t want to show up and learn, that’s your call.

And if the professor can’t teach, the class becomes an inadequate regurgitation of case facts. The time is better spent reading the professor’s book on your own. The great professors do not need to incentivize. The great professors do not need to threaten. The great professors inspire you to do the reading at your own will. We need more of those at this institution.

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