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HARVARD B-SCHOOL: 50% of Grades Are Based on Classroom Participation - Should You Do More of That?

Here's an interesting business school item to compare to the business world - at Harvard Business School, it's common for 50% of someone's grade to linked to the frequency and quality of their class participation.

That creates a dynamic in the "case-study" method of teaching that includes a couple of things:

--People having to prepare more diligently for the material to be discussed.

--People being under pressure to participate since they know they'll be graded on it. Hbs-mbaclassroom (1)

--A wide variety of quality and quantity of participation, which the instructor must figure out in order to assign a grade.

Are you grading your direct reports for their participation in corporate America?  Should the managers you support do the same?  Should more of the performance management rating be tied to active participation in corporate conversations - meetings, project teams, etc?

In short, are you allowing team members to hang back and not participate actively in conversations meant to get better outcomes for your company?  For those that do participate, all are equal or are you probing as a manager/leader for logic and perspective in a challenging way that might get better conversations rolling and better business outcomes?

I think the standard is that we let people who don't want to be active hide in the weeds.  Here's some notes from the HBS site related to classroom participation and how instructors manage it:

"Students and instructors are co-creators of class participation, and the stakes may be quite high, not only for collective and individual learning, but also for performance evaluation. (For example, at HBS participation often accounts for 50% of the total course grade.) During a class discussion, case instructors manage participation along two dimensions: who to call on and how to interact with students in the process of questioning, listening, and responding. In managing participation, instructors should strive to create a learning environment that students experience as fair, safe, and challenging.

During a case discussion, experienced instructors often rely on a variety of principles to decide which student to call on (or avoid selecting) at any point in time. Instructors might choose a student with expertise relating to the discussion topic to help clarify a difficult conceptual point or, conversely, select a student with little prior background to start off a discussion pasture. Instructors may seek to bring in less frequent participants by keeping a close eye out for their hands during the discussion and by cold-calling these students on occasion. Body language may also provide a useful guide: instructors may prefer to call on a student who reacts with excitement or confusion to a comment just made in the discussion, as opposed to a student whose hand has been up for some time. Instructors should track class participation on an on-going basis to ensure that their calling patterns are not biased with respect to certain demographic groups or individual students."

What that summary doesn't say is how participants are graded for a couple of things - namely, their willingness to participate actively without being asked and of course, the quality of their thought process, ideas and interactions once engaged.

Great conversations and sharing ideas in a proactive, credible way without crushing dissent is part skill and part art.  

If you're a manager of people, are you grading people in your head for their willingness to engage?  I'd think about this and add it to your senior-level stack when it comes to performance management.

50%? Nah.

10-20%?  Now you're talking.


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Kyle G

This is interesting and practical. I wonder, though, how professors adjust and grade for the various personality types. Some people will thrive under the light and attention in the classroom but others will want to think and reflect and have a higher need to analyze before they respond. In other words, some people will contribute much more frequently but not as deeply, as compared to deep contribution but infrequently.

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Really a informative and very important topic , We should keep attention in the classroom or during the discussionfor better respond.


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I personally fees classroom participation will increase the student interactions and also attentiveness too and this will lead to more productivity .


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50% participation!? I agree that it is just too much. Some students are good, but to shy to speak or partake in classroom discussion. This point method may unfairly deprive students of the grades that they deserve. I think 10% would be fair.
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I really feel that class participation is important because it makes students work harder. Actively class participation improves the level of thinking skills.

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