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What Type Of Student Are You? Active Participant vs. Passive Observer

Written by Christine Rees

What type of student are you? Are you shy and quiet? Do you let others speak during class or do you take charge by asking questions? Do you even raise your hand?

It’s easy to take notes while listening to your peers—instead of participating in class discussions yourself—but is that always the right choice? Can this decision negatively affect your communication skills?

Class discussions in post-secondary college and university courses require participation. Before we begin, let’s define what it means to be an active participant versus a passive observer when you’re a student.

Active Participant: This student raises their hand and contributes to class discussions. They seek out opportunities to ask and answer questions without being disruptive to the learning environment. An active participant gains confidence in making suggestions and speaking in front of an audience the more they do it. They may not be the most social person, however, they are willing to discuss what they are passionate about, which is what they are studying.

Passive Observer: This student silently takes notes or scrolls through their social media, not really paying attention. Most often, they don’t contribute in class unless it is mandatory or they are called on. This can negatively impact communication skills because an observer may lose confidence in their suggestions and answers, which can affect their overall performance.

Let’s break this down into situations.

“Raise your hand if you know how to solve…”

dog raising hand
Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

Active Participant: Will raise their hand and attempt to provide an answer. Sometimes they aren’t right on the money, but they receive points for trying. If you are willing to try, then you are often rewarded. Plus, you’re paying to be there so you should get the most out of your experience.

Passive Observer: Will wait for their classmates to venture a guess or two. When the answer is revealed, they write it down and silently listen to the rest of the lecture. However, this may hurt their overall grade from lost participation marks.

“Let’s debate…”

three women laughing
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Active Participant: Will supplement their side of the debate with as much information that is relevant. They will work with their teammates and listen to what others have to say so they can learn from them and add to the topic. They actively work towards meeting their end goals.

Passive Observer: Will listen and learn from their peers. However, they will not offer anything new unless their hand is forced.

“Get into groups and discuss…”

three people laughing with open laptops
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Active Participant: May not be the leader of the group discussion, but they will offer opinions, suggestions, and examples to stimulate conversation. They openly listen to others and work with them to maintain the discussion flow.

Passive Observer: Often will not offer any support during group work. They would rather step back to listen to everyone else’s thoughts. Although listening to what your group members have to say is important, having your voice heard is essential. It helps foster your own communication skills.

In the end, contributing in class improves your overall grade and betters your understanding of what is being taught. It also teaches you how to participate in a work environment, which is valuable for your future. Discussions in class are examples of what happens when you’re working full-time, and sometimes your classmates become your coworkers. You want them to remember you and how good you are at what you do. Listening and contributing can make all the difference when it comes to job interviews and potential promotions. Don’t miss your opportunity to practice these skills in college and university.

Just think, what would you rather be:

A participant who is actively working towards their end goal? OR An observer who is watching others reach theirs?

The choice is yours. What are you waiting for?

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.