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Social anxiety can add extra pressure to the participation grade

Classroom 335 in Phillips Hall was renovated in 2015 to enhance interactive learning. Photo by Lauren Daly.

Editor's Note: We updated this story to add an attribution to Liezelle Alipio, a member of The Daily Tar Heel staff. 

Participation is not a required part of UNC's curriculum, yet most professors include it as a part of students' final grade. Though professors see the merits of requiring participation, for some people with social anxiety, it can pose challenges. 

The course committee of the Department of Undergraduate Curricula assesses the methods professors use to evaluate participation. James Thompson, the associate dean of undergraduate curricula, believes participation should not weigh too heavily on students’ final grades. 

“We frown on courses that call for more than 20 percent of the grade for participation,” Thompson said. “It is a subjective grade.” 

At UNC, many professors factor participation into students’ final grades, despite the fact that it is not a required component of UNC’s course curricula. Thompson asserted that even if participation is not an official part of UNC curriculum, it is still important.

“Give and take in the classroom is the heart and the soul of the learning process,” said Thompson. “Learning should not be a one-way street.”

Thompson teaches a smaller humanities class. He recognized that in larger lecture classes, it may be harder to promote participation. He noted the use of technology such as instant polling that allows students in large classes to join discussions.

Ferrell Guillory, a professor in the School of Media and Journalism, said participation cannot be restricted to just simply talking in class.

“Participation, for me, is not just speaking up in class,” Guillory said. “It’s the ability to engage in a conversation and collaboration with each other.”

However, it’s precisely that kind of conversation and engagement that causes some students to have difficulty getting credit for participation.

In the past, Thompson has had experiences with students who were uncomfortable with speaking out. He said that professors can encourage communication with quieter students by using technology such as the forum function on Sakai.

“It doesn’t have to be all based on raising your hand and talking in class,” Thompson said.

Liezelle Alipio, a first-year biology major and Daily Tar Heel staff photographer, has been going to therapy for social anxiety for about a year. For students dealing with anxiety like her, seeing a participation requirement on the syllabus can induce feelings of dread.

“The thought of talking to an instructor about a problem I had or just meeting people would kind of give me queasiness,” Alipio said. “It was kind of like, ‘I don’t want to wake up and go to school because I’ll have to interact with more people today than I did yesterday.'”

Although she believes participation is an important part of the learning process, she took issue with it being part of the overall course grade. She finds that it’s not fair to students with social anxiety.

“Sometimes we can’t help it,” Alipio said. “It’s not something we choose to do when we wake up in the morning.”

Guillory has not yet faced a situation in which a student with social anxiety couldn’t participate, but if such a problem came up, he said he would find a way to deal with it.

“I want students to learn,” Guillory said. “I’m not here to erect more barriers – I’m here to lower barriers.”

Thompson stated that students who find it difficult to talk in class should speak with their professors one-on-one.

“They should speak with their instructor in a private conference about their reluctance,” Thompson said. “And make it clear that their quietness is not a function of disinterest, it’s not a function of not having done the work, but they are uncomfortable speaking in public.”

Alipio, like Thompson, also thinks that students with social anxiety should speak with their instructors.

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“Tell the teacher sometimes you might not be able to answer questions or if you have a problem communicating,” Alipio said. “They can help you or they can provide ways to ensure that you still get the participation credit.”

Alipio recommended that students reach out for help if they feel unable to complete the participation portion.

“If you can’t reach out to a therapist or a medical professional, just reaching out to a friend or even to the instructor would be a good way to approach social anxiety in a classroom setting,” she said.