Sabeha assumed that higher education would be an introvert’s paradise. An ideal learning environment for people, like her, who enjoy listening to lectures, contemplating problems and discovering new ideas. She imagined long afternoons spent in the silence of the library. It would be a celebration of the internal world involving independent study, quiet research and lots of time for thinking.
But the modern university doesn’t altogether match this stereotype.
We’re told to prepare our younger students for the world of work and this world is increasingly connected. We’re told that students must be future-proofed, helped to develop the skills needed for success and taught to work collaboratively with others, lest their job be snagged by a robot. Often this translates to an intensely collaborative environment of chatter, group work and relentless interaction. Exhausting as it is for quieter students who prefer a less stimulating environment, it’s generally accepted that collaboration is better for engagement and that everyone must be engaged as a vocal participant.
Yet ever since it became popular to discuss ‘introversion’ and ‘quiet’, many have questioned the value of constant connectedness in a world where around a third of people identify as introverts. This has led some to claim that the growing trend for collaborative learning is disadvantaging our quieter students.
Author, speaker, introvert, and host of the Quiet Revolution podcast, Susan Cain, points out that
"some people need to speak in order to think while others need to think in order to speak."
Not every student will thrive in a fast-paced, intensely interactive environment and Cain argues that students should not be formally assessed on the basis of group participation. She also distinguishes between introverted students and those who are shy. The latter might feel anxiety about volunteering contributions in a group context while introverts usually prefer to learn in solitude or an environment that is less stimulating.
Necessary as it is to prepare students for ‘an extrovert’s world’ of collaboration and teamwork, this can be done in a way that will optimise learning for everyone. While traditional lectures tend to suit introverts, more collaborative settings, like seminars and workshops, might require more careful management. Fortunately, explains Sabeha, who is now a lecturer in Linguistics, there are many ways of redesigning the classroom to accommodate all learners, without sacrificing teamwork. For instance, moving from whole-group learning to a more peer-led approach.
Sabeha says she has experimented with ‘silent debate’ through the medium of writing and will usually allow some time for quiet reflection before soliciting student feedback. She also finds a flipped approach helpful if students are given the opportunity to consider new ideas or concepts alone prior to meeting as a group. But not all educators are as mindful to accommodate introverts. Sabeha’s colleague makes no allowances for quieter students since ‘this is the reality of life’ and finds it ‘unhelpful to categorise people from a currently fashionable personality type’.
Either way, many educators find that technology can be an effective way to manage collaboration and facilitate the interactions among peers. With Kortext’s range of collaborative learning tools, students can work together from an environment that suits them best. For some this might be in solitude or the library while for others learning might happen in a more stimulating environment. The choice lies with the student. The online space can also be a great equaliser as quieter students can use it to collaborate on their own terms, meaning that group work is less likely to be dominated by a minority of gregarious students.
Susan Cain in the New York Times writes:
"The protection of the screen mitigates many problems of group work. This is why the Internet has yielded such wondrous collective creations."
Marcel Proust called reading a “miracle of communication in the midst of solitude,” and that’s what the Internet is, too. It’s a place where we can be alone together — and this is precisely what gives it power.’