Shutting up the over-participator

April 2nd, 2009

As I have grown from a freshman who sat through mind-numbing lectures that equated to me fulfilling a core requirement, to a senior who sits in major course discussion, there has been one major, and fateful, difference: the level of participation.

From English to Accounting, every major has the people who make you truly resent a class you would ordinarily enjoy – the over-participator.

My limited understanding of pedagogy tells me that any form of upper-level course educates by challenging beliefs. One person thinks one thing, another person thinks another thing, and both of those opinions need an opportunity to be brought to fruition.

This doesn’t work so well with the over-participator.

You know what kind of person I’m talking about; the person who talks way too much, even by my standards. The student in class who thinks the 19 other people in the room will greatly benefit from hearing what they think about every single comment and issue.

This person usually comes to class prepared in an unconventional way. They haven’t done the assigned reading, per se, but they have been watching CNBC or listening to NPR.

That is how they will introduce their first comment of the class: “Well last night, while I was watching CNN…” Once that first comment is out there, it’s free reign on the rest of the class period.

The worst part about this person is the way they speak in absolutes and will openly mock any other opinion that is raised. They will then begin to build popular support around what they think.

You’ll say something, then hear a comment come from the corner.  The over-participator has rebutted whatever ignorant and unsupported thing you have said and has moved on to nudging the people around them, usually following that with a “check out this guy.”

From that point on the over-participator will continue to rebut anything else that is said by others – even, at times, the professor. When they are done gracing the class with their brilliant insight and ground-breaking thoughts the class will be over and it is time to leave.

News flash, over-participator: you don’t have a Ph.D.; you don’t have a master’s degree; nor do you have a bachelor’s degree – you are a student, just like everyone else.

I say it’s time to take a stand against the over-participator. Once the consensus of the class is that a certain person has become an over-participator, start interrupting them. Then fight fire with fire; build your own support against that person. It’s not inappropriate to call them out in front of the whole class, nor is it inappropriate to directly ask them a question that they would have no way of knowing the answer.

Kindly reminding an over-participator that they are not the supreme being of knowledge, is not always such a bad thing. A certain lesson in humility can come from these actions.

The true crime is when others don’t get a chance to speak. People who choose to participate in class usually do so at a time when they feel that they have a particularly well thought-through insight to offer the class, and suppressing that is the real crime.

Also it sets the bar much higher to get an A in participation if you allow the over-participator to dominate the class discussion–something no one wants to deal with.