If we believe in the active-learning classroom — that the only way to bring about real learning is to engage students in ways that help them revise and broaden their thinking — then student participation is a nonnegotiable part of the equation. Learning does not happen without the student actively taking part.
Oddly, however, given its importance, our own definition of “student participation” is often quite limited. In the scholarship on teaching and learning, that term is almost always defined narrowly as the degree to which students take part in class discussions. And while discussion is obviously an important component of an active-learning classroom, it’s not the only component. There are many other ways in which students participate in class: writing, researching, and contributing to small group activities are just a few. If we want to accurately assess and reward participation in our courses, we need to expand our definition to include more than just the amount of times that students raise their hands.