Friday, September 6, 2013

Introversion and Teaching/Learning

Hi everyone. I read Susan Cain's book when it came out. While I agree with Judith Warner that Cain can be too broad and rah-rah, I ultimately find Quiet an extremely important and valuable corrective to the primacy of "extroversion" in the U.S. (As someone who grew up in the Philippines, I do believe there's a powerful cultural component than Cain often downplays, but that's a conversation for another day). In any case, I'm a "strong introvert" according to her quiz; I answered "yes" to 19 out of 20. To wit, I prefer small social gatherings, don't particularly enjoy going out, need A LOT of daily "alone time," etc. I love having my own office because I get to close the door. And while I find much satisfaction from teaching, I'm usually drained rather than energized by the end of the class period.

Given all of this, I find Web 2.0 tools a potentially liberating resource for the large number of students who are introverts. Cain's book helped me understand why I've never been a fan of group work, either as a student or as a teacher. The "best practices" in pedagogy today seems be permeated by an extrovert ideal. This is reflected in our faculty observation forms, which have an item about "ability to stimulate students to interact." It's as if "interaction" (which is largely defined as face-to-face conversation) is considered good, valuable, or productive in and of itself, regardless of context, classroom and interpersonal dynamics, subject matter, etc. And while some introverted students can "fake it" well enough to participate in group work (like I did even through grad school), I'd bet that for many of them, the anxiety and effort undermines genuine reflection or learning. In Web 2.0, I see a way to enable more participation from a wide variety of students. Even just last semester, I noticed how many of the most thoughtful written comments came from students who rarely (if ever) spoke up in class discussion. Any class would be impoverished by the absence of these voices. Any tool that opens up the floor to these students is worth exploring.


  1. Hi, Irwin,
    Among other great points that you make--I love that you point out the bias in peer observation forms that ask about "ability to stimulate students to interact." That's such an important point. If we were teaching "to the test" (e.g., to the values promoted in the SIR), we'd be undermining some real student (and teacher!) strengths.
    And like you, I find a lot to work with from Cain's book--even if she does resort to broad sloagan-isms.

  2. "Any tool that opens up the floor to these students is worth exploring." I loved this too!

  3. Irwin,

    Like you I am a strong introvert. Power to the intros!?! Anywho… I find reflection lacking in general in a society that is constantly competing, concerned with generating the best quality thing they can make, and being the best quality person ever in existence. Forgive the hyperbole. It seems that the rubrics used for generating a grade for a class requires us to prepare people for the workforce and isn’t centered as much around thinking (is this truly part of the academic culture to participate in class? What about the quality of the thoughts they put on paper?). Why are interpersonal dynamics important? I agree and have experienced faking it; I often felt like I was required to come up with something quickly before I had a chance to actually know or feel comfortable with subject of a class or unit in a class. “You want me to write a report on something I barely know anything about? Ok.” Big smiles. The personality spectrum is only a portion of what we have to be mindful of in class, and I’m happy we can extend the classroom community online. It seems to provide a better opportunity for the introverts.