"I took a philosophy class in college," I said.

The whole family was at the dinner table. My husband and middle child were discussing the long series of lessons on philosophy that they had begun watching together. They had learned about Aristotle and were ready to move on to the next lesson. It had been a complicated endeavor, not just because philosophy can be esoteric but also because the course consisted of a tall stack of VHS tapes that I had bought my husband as a gift in the 1990s. My mother loaned them an old VCR, and now they were doing something productive together during the pandemic.

"You took philosophy?"my husband said. "What did you learn?"

I thought back to the small classroom in Gregory Hall and the professor who sat behind a big wooden desk. We read books, he posed questions and sometimes he wrote on the board. It was Philosophy 101, and we were required to write several short papers throughout the semester. Most of all I remembered how few students participated during class, all the awkward silences.

"I learned to always raise my hand and answer a question on the first day of class," I said.

"That’s what you learned?" my husband said, with a scoff.

He expected me to mention specific philosophers and explain grand concepts. Instead, on the very first day of my first semester I learned a lesson in my philosophy class that served me well throughout all my years in college. Sit near the front, pay attention, raise your hand and answer a question.

If you wait, it will be harder to raise your hand later. You will feel strange. There will be a lot of pressure because no one has heard you talk in class before. People might even turn around and look at you: Who is this girl and what does she suddenly have to say? It’s always nerve wracking to venture a response that you’re not sure will be correct, but it’s never as bad as the first time you try. So just get that out of the way the first day.

Furthermore, your professor will see you as an engaged student. Obviously, you need to come to class prepared and not just blurt out something in order to say anything. But every professor knows that that there are at least three kinds of students in the room: 1) people who have ideas they could share but don’t raise their hand, 2) those who keep their hands down and eyes averted because they don’t have anything thoughtful to contribute and 3) the few students who they can count on to share their thoughts and opinions.

Belonging to the third group has a lot of advantages. Participating helps you learn and retain the information from class, and participation is often a percentage of the final grade. Besides, engaging in the back and forth of ideas is part of the deeper learning that college is for, not just memorizing and regurgitating facts on an exam. Moreover, whenever you eventually need a favor, a connection or a letter of recommendation, you can circle back to professors who recognize you because you stood out among the sea of students who never said anything.

There’s a fine balance. This summer, a reading group I belong to met over Zoom with the author of the book we just finished. "You can ask questions in the chat," the facilitator said to encourage those who might be too shy to speak. I was excited and asked the first question. A few others piped in. Then silence. No questions appeared in the chat box either.  "Any other questions?" the facilitator asked. "Yes," I said as I unmuted myself and talked. Two questions was the limit, I knew. Eager is different than annoying.

I had a one-year subscription to Masterclass, an online trove of lessons from famous experts. I learned a lot but didn’t renew my subscription. I’m not sitting on the couch watching philosophy lessons with my husband and son. There’s just something missing in courses that lack interaction among professors and students. Oh, I know what’s missing! Call on me! "Participation. What’s missing is participation."