Groupwork and introverts

I really enjoyed this presentation on TED, particularly this line: “… the transcendent power of solitude“. Being an introvert doesn’t mean someone who is shy or reluctant to engage with others. It describes a person who has a tendency to turn inward mentally, feeling more energized by time spent alone.

As teachers who are preparing students to work as part of health care teams, I think that we have a tendency to emphasise group work as part of our undergraduate modules. But it’s also important to acknowledge that solitary work has its place, and to accommodate in our lesson designs the students who don’t draw their energy from working with others.

Being an introvert myself, I have some empathy with how it feels to be made to work with others. I much prefer to work by myself on most tasks, even though I know that collaboration and diversity of perspective are powerful tools for learning. It’s odd that I never thought about this when designing group activities for my students. Recently however, I changed track, offering students the opportunity to work together, but on individual assignments.

As part of the ethics module that I teach I’ve had students complete various short reflective writing assignments and then sharing their ideas in small groups. They don’t need to read everything that others in the group have written; maybe just share the main ideas, evidence supporting their claims and conclusions. Others in the group give constructive feedback that helps the student develop their ideas and refine their arguments. They then work individually again in order to finalise their writing before submitting it to me.

This gives them the space to work as individuals and to get their own ideas onto paper but also creates a process where they can get different perspectives on their work, helping them to clarify ideas and arguments. I want them to feel comfortable discussing ideas with others but also to make sure that they have the cognitive space and freedom to try out their ideas first before sharing with others. It also means that they are not obliged to share everything with others in the group, and that the student controls how much of themselves they are open to sharing.