Going Off of That Point: An Account of Course Participation and Millenials

With a new semester comes the inevitable onslaught of new syllabi. You scan the pages of each syllabus with your grade in mind as you read the various percentage breakdowns. And there it is again -- the participation grade. Shy and garrulous alike collectively sigh at the sight of a participation grade. Participation levels can make or break a grade.

Internal dialogue runs wild in the moments before raising your hand in class. Is what I'm saying insightful? Do I really want to raise my hand? Is this point still relevant? What if someone disagrees? Maybe the professor just won't call on me? Do I get credit for raising my hand? You could sit there questioning for hours whether or not you're going to raise your hand.

And then there it is -- you raised your hand. Someone on the other side of the room finishes making their comment about that day's reading and the professor calls on you next. To keep the dialogue flowing you introduce your thought with the phrase "going off of that previous point" and then you offer an affirmation of the prior thought while adding your own opinion to it.

It's the classic recipe for participation. Repeat until desired participation levels have been achieved for the day.

'Going off of that point' is the new 'like.' It has infiltrated the vocabularies of college students everywhere. It hardly seems possible to have an entire class period without that phrase appearing.

Being guilty myself of using this phrase, it had never occurred to me that it had become a collegiate phenomenon found in classes across campus. An international relations professor first presented the concept to me during office hours last semester. When discussing what he considered to be the hallmarks of good participation, he pointed out the overwhelming presence of this new introductory, and unnecessary, phrase.

'Going off of that point' creates a transition between the previous idea and the new thought being introduced. It signals you've been paying attention and comprehending the class discussion and seek to keep the conversation flowing.

It's a gateway to participation. It's a protection from criticism. The professor and your peers received the prior point well and yours is merely going off of theirs so why should any critique arise?

Alternating opinions should arise because that's the point of the discussion. We are not put in courses to merely affirm one solitary idea. Not every class dialogue needs to be neat and contained to the popular belief. This phrase and the desire for fluid conversation wrongly prevent contention and disagreement from arising.

Employment of this phrase before participation signifies a lack of courage and conviction in your own thoughts. It relies on the bravery of the former speaker to prove and safeguard your own worth in the context of the classroom. Of course, if you agree with a point, say so. But disagreement is not an egregious concept in the classroom. We are meant to challenge our peers and the ideas being presented before us to broaden our own perspectives.

It's another unnecessary phrase we do not need. We can have our own unique thoughts to assert in a course without fear of being told we're wrong. So why aren't we simply putting our own words out there?

Most millenials know the irrelevance and unnecessary nature of the word 'like' yet it still pervades our vocabulary. We should have the same understanding of using the phrase 'going off of that point.'

This participation concept is not site specific. The phenomenon is not unique to Colgate University. Studying abroad at the University of St Andrews I was amused to hear a student contribute with this phrase prefacing his thoughts. St Andrews students and fellow juniors studying abroad noticed it too.

What's the point of being afraid to make our own statements? My participation does not need to go off of that previous point. It can be based on the same concept. It can completely diverge. But what's important is that it's my own and provides some benefit to the conversation.

Communication is an art form that should be preserved. Words are powerful. Ideas deserve to be voiced. Hesitancy in participation is understandable yet it should not keep us from voicing our opinions.

Similar to the word 'like,' 'going off of that point' does not need to exist in our vocabulary. It's superfluous, unoriginal, and dilutes the potency of our own thoughts.

So go ahead, raise your hand, share your opinions, but do not rely on previous statements to minimize the risk of voicing your own. Participate without the support system of everyone else's previous arguments. It's, like, about time.