I'll be candid here. All of a sudden, it seems to be really popular to be an introvert these days.
Whether or not my perception is fair, it is something I have thought about a great deal recently as it pertains to myself and my own social interactions, and as it pertains to my classroom settings. For a long time, I classified myself as an introvert, much to the shock of several who simply couldn't accept that ("What? You're so outgoing!") But, it's true, or at least I thought it was until I took a bevy of quizzes that placed me more toward the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum as an "ambivert." As much as I try to be lively and engaging in my classroom, I can't deny that I often go home completely drained after most classes. I value one-on-one or small group conversations that are deep and meaningful, and couldn't work a room by gladhanding and backslapping if you paid me (which is ironic, because I was a lobbyist for a short time.) Anyway, it's just part of who I am.
I recently finished Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. During my reading, I decided to follow Ms. Cain on Facebook and Twitter to continue the discussion on introversion. A couple of weeks ago, she posted a link to her blogpost on "The American obsession with class participation, from a non-American perspective," and it was rather enlightening. The accompanying discussion on Facebook was rather lively, and I decided to add my two cents as well:
I do grade to an extent on participation, but as someone riding the fuzzy line dividing introvert and ambivert, I give exceptionally wide latitude to my students. If they don't want to talk in front of their peers, I encourage them to tweet me during class with our class hashtag (yes, this has been successful), I'll put them in pairs for discussions rather than groups, and of course, I'll encourage them to engage with me directly, all of which count toward my participation guidelines. Everyone is unique, so why not let them tailor their participation in a way that lets them thrive and feel comfortable?
Amazingly, the response to this was quite favorable, garnering 47 "likes" from others following the discussion, and nine individual responses, including one from Ms. Cain herself (which admittedly, as a voracious reader, I tend to be more starstruck by authors than anyone else). Part of my surprise to this positive response was that these methods of mine had been marginally panned by some of my scholarly colleagues in the past. Integrating a social media platform such as Twitter seemed a bit nonsensical to them, but of course, after widespread aversion comes widespread adoption, and now many of these colleagues are doing the same thing. I can't take credit for it, but it's helped.
But to the question: how do you work with introversion in the classroom? As a professor who teaches future public servants in the public and nonprofit sphere, I feel that there has more often than not been a standard to be outgoing and engaging with the public (certainly introverts do this, but it doesn't necessarily mean they enjoy it). And, as a professor who teaches in a professional program, there seems to be a standard to be upheld that a so-called "real world" application should take place within the confines of the classroom, preparatory to entering careers in public service.
So, let's continue the dialogue. What's your take?