Flipping Your Classroom without Flipping Out Your Introverted Students

active learning project
One of the central features of a flipped classroom is the active learning that takes place within it. When students come to class having viewed a short lecture or read materials in advance, then classroom time can be devoted to engaging with that material, focusing on challenging elements, and applying what has been learned. This requires careful planning as the role of the faculty member shifts from being a transmitter of information to a designer of learning activities. When designing learning activities for your flipped classroom, it is vital to keep the needs of all of your students in mind. Many extroverted students will be delighted to see the lecture hall transformed into a place where group brainstorming, problem-solving, and collaborative learning become the norm. For students who sit further along the introversion end of the temperament spectrum, the lecture hall perfectly suits their preferred style of learning. They may be less delighted at the prospect of change. So, before you begin flipping, it might be helpful to consider the implications of temperament on teaching and learning. The concepts of introversion and extroversion, originally conceived by Carl Jung, have been helpful ways of understanding basic differences in human temperament (Jung 1970). Jung proposed that this critical element of our personality affects how we engage in social activity and influences our preferred levels of external stimulation. Extroverts prefer higher levels of stimulation and are typically are energized by social interaction, whereas introverts are comfortable with quiet and can find connecting with large groups of unfamiliar people exhausting. They may have excellent social skills and enjoy meaningful friendships, but are quite happy in their own company.

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One of the central features of a flipped classroom is the active learning that takes place within it. When students come to class having viewed a short lecture or read materials in advance, then classroom time can be devoted to engaging with that material, focusing on challenging elements, and applying what has been learned. This requires careful planning as the role of the faculty member shifts from being a transmitter of information to a designer of learning activities. When designing learning activities for your flipped classroom, it is vital to keep the needs of all of your students in mind. Many extroverted students will be delighted to see the lecture hall transformed into a place where group brainstorming, problem-solving, and collaborative learning become the norm. For students who sit further along the introversion end of the temperament spectrum, the lecture hall perfectly suits their preferred style of learning. They may be less delighted at the prospect of change. So, before you begin flipping, it might be helpful to consider the implications of temperament on teaching and learning. The concepts of introversion and extroversion, originally conceived by Carl Jung, have been helpful ways of understanding basic differences in human temperament (Jung 1970). Jung proposed that this critical element of our personality affects how we engage in social activity and influences our preferred levels of external stimulation. Extroverts prefer higher levels of stimulation and are typically are energized by social interaction, whereas introverts are comfortable with quiet and can find connecting with large groups of unfamiliar people exhausting. They may have excellent social skills and enjoy meaningful friendships, but are quite happy in their own company. In an academic environment, introverts may prefer to work completely alone and discover their best ideas in solitude. They are typically quite comfortable in a lecture hall, listening and learning without the demands of engaging with others. If your flipped classroom involves constant group activity and a continuous buzz of students collaborating on projects, you may find your more introverted students voting with their feet. In order to keep the learning preferences of all of your students in mind as you flip your classroom, consider these two planning principles: congruent choice and balance. The principle of congruent choice suggests that all students should have the opportunity, some of the time, to work and be assessed in ways that fit their temperament. For extroverts, who often understand what they are thinking by speaking out loud, and who thrive in social learning environments, this means that they should be able to work collaboratively, at least some of the time. For introverts, the opposite is true. They should be able to work independently, and in quieter environments, some of the time. In a flipped classroom, there need to be options with respect to active learning. Active learning does not require group work, all of the time. Students can be actively learning while having some quiet time to read a case study, review a spread sheet, write questions, or solve a problem. Balancing time provided, to work together and to work independently, will respect the preferences of all of your learners, and will most likely produce optimal student performance as well. When designing active learning strategies that involve collaboration in groups, it is also important to consider group size. More extroverted students may embrace “the more the merrier” attitude with respect to groups. Introverts, on the other hand, may be more comfortable working with a partner, or a group of three or four, rather than a larger group. When possible, and unless the task requires a large group for successful completion, consider providing options. A one size fits all approach may not be necessary and it certainly isn’t preferable. You may assign a case study followed by questions, for example, with the instructions, “Work on your own, with a partner, or a small group. You have 20 minutes to prepare and then we’ll discuss as a large group”. Providing options demonstrates an awareness of your learners’ differences and respect for different approaches to learning. In a flipped classroom, there may be times when group work is the best way to actively engage with material that students have been introduced to outside of the classroom. And while it may not be the first choice of more introverted students, working successfully in groups is undoubtedly a twenty-first century job performance skill. Students should be required to take risks and stretch outside of their comfort zones. When assigning group work, however, it is important that the abilities of all group members are recognized and rewarded. In small group discussions, introverts typically prefer to listen first, gather their thoughts before they speak, and may be gifted in synthesizing the ideas communicated by others. In an effort to support introverted students, some faculty members have adopted the practice of assigning roles to group members. However, be wary of always assigning the introvert the role of group recorder; this can inadvertently communicate that their ideas are not a valuable part of the activity. As Susan Cain suggests in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, it’s not always the biggest talkers who have the best ideas (Cain 2012). When students are encouraged to explore and discover the variable skills of group members, they may come to the realization that the “quieter” member who takes time to process before speaking has unique contributions to the group’s efforts. Well-designed small group learning experiences draw on the skills of all group members rather than creating situations where the most extroverted and gregarious students control the learning. When designing learning activities for your flipped classroom, consider the key elements of congruent choice and balance in order to create a comfortable learning environment for all your students. Excerpted from Flipping the College Classroom: Practical Advice from Faculty, edited by Barbi Honeycutt, 60-62. Madison, WI: Magna Publications, 2016. Nicki Monahan is a faculty advisor at George Brown College in Toronto. She also serves as a conference advisor to the Teaching Professor Conference.