I am a senior at the University of Texas at Austin where I am finishing my English degree with a focus on literature and a minor in journalism.
Often times in class, students are uneasy and not comfortable about speaking out with topic related questions or comments. I have been in classes where a professor is seeking response from at least one student in the class and an awkward quietness pursues for nearly a minute. The professor usually looks flustered and upset, as no one feels confident to even attempt at a speculation. Of course, I have been in discussion based courses where conversation is more encouraged and is even part of the grade for the course. In these settings, I find that students participate more and bring forth their thoughtful insights.
It surely is not a coincidence that when a grade is brought into the equation and students are under the gun for points, nearly the entirety of the class begins to speak out. From my own experience, it can be quite frustrating if I or another student in the class is the only one participating. An equal amount of participation from students is preferred as it levels the discussion and leads the professor to believe that everyone is on the same page in terms of the topic at hand.
I once took a course called ‘The Good Society’ in which a new topic was discussed each week. Everything from politics, conservation, economics, and media was brought to the table and discussed. This class consisted of numerous honors students and 90 percent of the class participated. I was in the 10 percent of the class that kept quiet, as I was not familiar with many of the topics being discussed. In contrast, I took a course called ‘British Literature’ in which a professor lectured in a globe like lecture hall and brought forth questions about William Blake’s poems, Shakespeare, and other British writers. The amount of participation in this course was disastrously minimal as most students were weary of speaking out and the silence that pervaded the lecture hall was painfully awkward. I found that I took away a lot more from the class in which students participated frequently because I was able to learn from other students insight and opinions and I was able to use their knowledge of criteria to supplement my own.
That being said, I encourage all college students from those starting out as freshmen, to the elder and more adept seniors to participate and let their voice be heard in the classroom. While it can be awkward and feel uneasy at first, sometimes being the first student to elicit a conversation will encourage other students to do the same. You will also find that the more you participate, the stronger of a relationship you will develop with your professor and peers. Students will see you as confident and outspoken and be more likely to befriend you or ask for your assistance and vice versa. Of course, being sure to read materials before class will give you a better understanding of what is going to be discussed and will prepare you for whatever questions your professor brings to the conversation.