What Determines Classroom Participation? Effects of Gender, Class Rank, Class Structure, and Personality

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Dr. J. Roselyn Lee, Hope College

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Classroom discussion is a fundamental part of the learning process. To better understand the material, a student must ask questions, give opinions, and exchange ideas with the professor and other students. It is important to be able to understand and learn from alternate views and individual might miss, but another student might see. However, in order for classroom discussion to serve its purpose, students must actively participate. Professors must look at several factors in order to get the optimal discussion from their class. Students also must be conscious of these factors to receive optimal learning. With a Hope College student sample (N = 75), we conducted a survey study to investigate how various individual and structural factors affected a student’s level of participation. In particular, we examined the effects of students’ gender as well as class rank, factors related to class structure (class size and grading based on participation), and students’ personality in regards to shyness. We found that males and females did not show a significant difference in their participation levels, which, interestingly, contradicted the findings of previous research. We also found that students tend to participate less in larger classes, which tells us that class size matters. Class rank revealed a significant difference, showing that Juniors are the most active participators, Freshmen are the second most active, and Seniors are the least active participators. Lastly, our data showed that students’ shyness had a significant negative association with class participation levels, indicating that the shyer students are, the less likely they are to engage in class participation.

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