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Participation in Learning Activities


Activities where students are graded for their participation in learning activities, generally low stakes assessment used to encourage engagement and learning. Examples might include contributions to, participation in,  in-class or online discussions, debates or oral/audio-visual presentations.

What can it assess ?

Assesses student participation and contribution to in-class or online discussions, small-group activities and/or presentations. The quality of an individual’s performance and or contribution to the process of learning may also be assessed.

Advantages and Disadvantages


  • Encourages students to be prepared for class
  • Supports interactive peer-to-peer learning
  • Can build student confidence to participate in discussions and debates and engage in public speaking more generally
  • Allows for in-class feedback and student self-monitoring opportunities


  • It can be a challenge to fairly and reliably assess student participation
  • Shy or socially anxious students may not perform or disengage 
  • Can encourage some students to dominate discussion

Design and Online Assessment Considerations


Notwithstanding that this form of assessment is usually low-stakes and often done in-class or online between classes, consider introducing a short checklist or simple assessment rubric to guide and enhance student contributions. A checklist/rubric is also important to ensure that student participation is fairly assessed and that the assessment criteria are clear and transparent to students.  Moon (2002, p. 16) recommends starting with intended learning outcomes and/or graduate attributes to create assessment criteria and develop rubrics. Defined differentiation between levels of performance in rubrics can enable more reliable grading and help students to improve the quality of their contribution. 

Quieter or anxious students may struggle with this type of assessment and it is important to consider mitigation strategies to ensure that they are not disadvantaged. Relying less on spontaneous discussion and instead asking students to either:

  • to prepare a presentation in advance of class;
  • to record an oral/audio-visual presentation;
  • or to contribute to a Discussion Forum or blog.

These approaches can help support diverse cohorts of students (see Assessing Student Contribution in Class: in quest of a reliable and transparent method).

Online Assessment 

A range of tools available within Brightspace can be utilised to assess student participation depending on the type of activity and its format.  For example, the Discussion Forum tool can support online discussion and debates. For virtual presentations Zoom/Google meet/slides may be used (for presentation or recording). For group tasks it may be relevant to consider use of zoom breakout groups and the class progress tool in Brightspace. The class progress tool provides an overview of the whole student cohort across various activities, including engagement with module learning materials, discussion participation, checklist completion, quiz performance and assignment completion. 

Poll Everywhere may also assist in supporting participatory activities as it enables the creation of a range of activities to engage students and increase participation in either face-to-face or online classes. 

Tools and technologies to support with assessing participation include:

Preparing Students

Prepare students by introducing them to the reasons for assessing participation such as helping to motivate learning and prepare for class, build effective communication skills, and use the classroom as a space to learn from each other (Armstrong 1978, p. 186).  It is important that expectations of students are clearly articulated in module documentation and verbally in-class. Give students the opportunity (in-class or online) to ask questions about how they are assessed and the criteria used to assess their performance. Set aside time in-class for students to review the assessment criteria and rubrics together. If online tools are being used in this assessment type, ensure that students are familiar with the technology and provide instructions as needed. 

Learn More 

The following are some key resources that are currently available if you would like to learn more about this key assessment type.


  • Armstrong, M. (1978). Assessing Student Participation in Class Discussion. Assessment in Higher Education 3:3 186-202 
  • Evans, R. (2011). Assessing student contribution in class: in quest of a reliable and transparent method. Investigations in University Teaching and Learning, 7, pp. 82-91.
  • Moon, J. (2002). How to use level descriptors. London: SEEC