Don’t Forget the Introverts

I left our fortnightly staff meeting this afternoon feeling completely exhausted. I tried to look back on my day to get some insight into what may have led to this feeling. A quiet, reflective drive home got me thinking about extroverts, introverts and their responses to schooling. I think our education system favours extroversion. This includes our students and teachers. For many introverts, schools can be a daunting and exhausting experience. As I look back on today’s meeting, a few observations spring to mind.

The education profession, by its very nature, attracts extroverted people as teachers. Let’s face it, teaching is very much a performance and that is much more appealing for those with tendencies toward extroversion. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great teachers out there who are introverts. It’s just that schools can be a very tiring and confronting place for a teacher with a predisposition toward introversion.

In today’s staff meeting, we were met with an outstanding presentation about Connecting with Community. The presenters had the audience creating radio shows, acting out and responding quickly to prompts. Two of our team performed an inpromptu, 3 minute radio show based on upcoming events in our school. No scripts; no preparation; just live performance. My skin crawled when they asked for volunteers and I made every effort not to make any eye contact with the facilitators. Following this, we had to move into small groups to create and record a similar radio show. The extroverts in the room shone through this experience. As an introvert, I found much of the meeting confronting and overwhelming. As facilitators called for volunteers I was aware of myself trying desperately to be invisible. I left this meeting feeling like I would struggle to stay away for the drive home. At the same time, many of my colleagues bounced out of the event, laughing and commenting on the energy they had taken from the experience

Secondly, I noted one of the facilitators had a big, sparkly birthday message for a student in their class. I heard a number of my colleagues commenting positively about the teacher’s dedication and caring nature, with further comments about how special this child must have felt after having this message displayed on the IWB during class. At the same time, I felt sympathy for the student and imagined how uncomfortable they may have felt. Neither feeling is right or wrong; just different.

My son won a spelling bee competition at his school today. He is something of an extrovert and thrives on performing to an audience. The video of the final round also shows a shy (and possibly introverted) young girl looking extremely uncomfortable standing on a stage with an audience of 350 students and teachers. Without taking anything away from my son’s performance, I wonder if the young girl would have performed better without a large audience.

Extroverted students are seemingly better suited to many instances of traditional and modern schooling. Consider the questioning techniques in any classroom. Students are praised for contributing responses quickly. Our schools recognise the achievements of those who put themselves forward and at times the ‘quiet achievers’ float along in the background struggling to cope with the energy required to match the ‘performances’ of those with a more obvious disposition toward extraversion.

A couple of messages come to mind for our schools. First, and foremost, teachers need to be aware of their own preferences toward extroversion/introversion and ensure that they take into account the needs and feelings of those with a different disposition. Allow opportunities for students to delay responding to questions. Give extroverts an opportunity to perform, but don’t pressure introverts into feeling they need to conform to this. Be careful of how and what you highlight about students. Having your birthday broadcast to a large group can lead to feelings of discomfort for come of your students.

Take time to develop an awareness of your own preferences for introversion or extraversion. It is only through awareness of our own perceptions and filters that we are able to acknowledge the impact of our actions on those around us. Most importantly, respect difference and cater for diversity.

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How Do We Really Learn to Use Technology?

I recently facilitated a workshop that introduced participants to the basic functions of iPads. (The workshop was called “The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to iPads and we have offered it at least twice per term this year). This is the only workshop that I run that does not focus on education and pedagogy – it is purely a ‘how-to’ session aimed at people who have never touched an iDevice. Interestingly, discussion usually turns toward education and ideas for using iPads in the classroom.

Most participants in these workshops arrive with a skeptical attitude and a general reluctance to engage with, or use technology for teaching and learning. However, these workshops are characterised by excited participants exclaiming about the simplicity of the iPad and the many possibilities of use in a classroom environment. I particularly enjoy watching adults behave like 5 year olds when playing with the camera and photo booth app. It’s fantastic. All of a sudden, adults transform into fun-loving participants without fear of shame or embarrassment. This is really exciting. It’s also what is often missing when reluctant technology users undertake ICT-focused professional learning.

In the midst of this workshop I noticed one of the participants refusing to touch the iPad and focusing on writing copious amounts of notes in a possible attempt to transcribe the entire 2 hour workshop. Always curious about people’s learning styles, I approached the person and encouraged them to take the iPad in their hands and actually try doing some of the things they were writing about. Reluctantly this person briefly picked up the iPad, turned it in her hands, tried twice to swipe to unlock, and then slammed it to the desk in front of her. She then launched into a diatribe (complete with numerous f bombs) that the afternoon had been a complete waste of her time and that she had not learnt anything about iPads.

This got me thinking…

What is the best way to learn to use a technology that is new to us? Do our default learning preferences impact on our ability to engage? (Plus the obvious question – what could I have done differently so that this person could have had a more positive experience in my workshop?)

I have no doubt in my mind that the best way to learn to use any new technology is through a hands-on process. Engaging with technology is not a passive process – it is something that you have to do. New technology can be such an abstract concept for most people. In the case of iPads (or any other touch screen device), if a person has never interacted with this type of technology their only reference will be from ‘traditional computers’. The technologies are quite different so new learners do not have a valid point of reference for beginning their learning. Therefore, this participant was not going to learn by writing notes; she was essentially writing about an abstract concept without any background understanding.

People may learn (or retain information) by writing about it but this won’t happen without a concrete frame of reference when learning about technology. In other words, you have to do it to learn it.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by langwitches

In reflecting on this experience, I need also consider the person’s attitude toward learning. Reluctant users of technology often expect professional learning to be something of a magic wand – they will turn up, spend 2 hours listening and leave with newfound skills and knowledge. The participant certainly came with that mindset. There is no magic wand for any type of learning. No matter our learning preferences, in the end we need to apply ourselves and dedicate time to learning new concepts, ideas or skills. This is definitely the case for learning technology.

Whilst there is no set method for learning to use and integrate technology in education, there are some basic points to consider about learners.

  • They need to see a purpose and believe it
  • They need to have time to touch, explore and experiment in a hands-on environment.
  • An open-minded approach toward learning is necessary.
  • Fear of technologies will inhibit learning.
  • Learning takes time.