Thursday, November 18, 2010

Arguing attendance & participation policies

I enrolled in an introductory philosophy course at the end my sophomore year.  Unfortunately early classes don't mix well with lazy students; to make matters worse, the professor strongly believed in factoring attendance into the final grade.  He called this an "attendance and participation" grade, but he described it as an attendance policy.  I can't remember how much it was worth, somewhere around 5-10% of the final grade.  I actually managed to read the textbook and get a B, but what is more interesting about this story is my attempt to persuade the professor that I deserved full "attendance and participation" credit even though I had only been in class about half the time.  I walked up to hand him the final exam and presented my case (whispering so that the others taking the exam weren't disturbed).  He ended up granting my request, but he never said if my argument persuaded him to do so (or if he already agreed).  Here is the argument best I can remember:

1. Many students attended class 100% of the time, but only participated 50% of that time
2. I attended class 50% of the time, but participated 100% of that time
3. Therefore, I should receive the same points that the half-assed perfect attenders receive

Reader challenge: is the argument valid, sound, and persuasive?  Counterarguments?

I should probably offer a definition for "participation": asking or answering at least one question during a class session (these were very small classes).

2 comments:

Eric said...

I don't think we can say whether the argument, as presented, is valid or sound, for it seems to me that there's an enthymeme or two that need to be added:


(1) Many students attended class 100% of the time, but only participated 50% of that time
(2) I attended class 50% of the time, but participated 100% of that time
(3') If a student who doesn't attend each class participates as much over the course of a semester as students who do attend each class, then both students should receive the same 'attendance and participation' points, since participation is the relevant element, not attendance.
(4') I participated in the classes I attended as much, over the course of the semester, as many of the students who attended every class participated.
(5) Therefore, I should receive the same points that the half-assed perfect attenders received.

That argument is valid, but it seems to me that if the professor described his 'attendance and participation' policy as a de facto attendance policy, then (3') is false. Hence, the argument is not sound, given the professor's standards. Of course, your argument may have persuaded him that his pre-semester standard was wrong, and that therefore his final-day-of-class conclusion would be that (3') is true, which would make the argument sound.

So, the argument with the enthymemes is valid, and depending on whether the professor accepted (3'), it could be sound or unsound. But should it have persuaded him? I don't think so, for you didn't provide a defense of (3').

What do you think?

David Parker said...

Your thinking looks right to me.

Another possible scenario that comes to mind is this:

(3') A and P should be equally weighted towards the final grade

I would be asking the professor to give me (and the half-assed perfect attenders) 7.5 out of 10 points. 10 points would be pretty difficult to earn!

He might disagree with 3'...perhaps the quality of participation is more important to him, and he believes attendance is a prerequisite for quality participation.

What a way to start my Friday...musing over classroom participation policies. :-)

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