How university students participate in class discussions can impact their overall grades. But for some students, speaking up in class is a challenge they are forced to overcome.

First-year Mount Royal University (MRU) student Kimberly Canon, 22, first discovered her introversion in high school when a teacher pointed out that Canon was unable to express herself around students.

“That’s when I realized that [it’s] not something I really want to do [or] I like to do,” says Canon. She eventually got admitted to the instrumentation engineering program at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), where she says her emotions escalated due to her classes’ participation requirement.

“Am I going to mess up? Am I going to get in trouble? Do I look like an idiot? I probably look like an idiot,” recalls Canon of the constant fears running through her mind at that time.

Am “[I] even sharing something that’s worth the person’s time?” she adds. “I would start having emotional breakdowns … I just could not handle it.”

The fears behind introversion  

DESOUZA MallariBroadcast student, Kim Mallari, wishes there were more options for graded in-class participation other than speaking up to an entire class.  Photo by Rosemary J. De Souza.

Those fears of “messing up” or being misinterpreted are no stranger to MRU broadcasting student Kim Mallari, 22, who says that participating in class discussions were requirements he dealt with in previous semesters.

“It was really dreadful,” says Mallari, adding that the fear of being judged by what seems to be “ten thousand people” was constantly in his mind.

Other than being an introvert, Mallari also lives with social anxiety disorder (SAD), a condition he has not been formally diagnosed with but has been suspected by his psychiatrist.

He says that SAD can also contribute to his emotions in high-pressure situations.

“I really was not comfortable at all,” he says. “I’m just really awkward all the time so I think about how awkward I’m speaking … I’m shaking and that just amplifies.”

“I can’t speak clearly when I’m on that state of mind. It’s like a loop of like the more I think about how awkward I am and the way I speak, the more it gets worse.”

Despite his worries, Mallari tries to contribute in class discussions for the sake of getting a grade.

Big group versus small group discussion

DESOUZA Karen ManarinDiscussion in the College Classroom by Jay R. Howard is a book that inspires MRU professor, Karen Manarin’s teaching instruction.  Photo by Rosemary J. De Souza.

MRU English and General Education professor, Karen Manarin, has never taught Canon or Mallari, but says that class discussions are important for her students because she grades the quality of their contributions.

The value of class discussions depends on where the knowledge exists, says Manarin, adding that, “Knowledge [for her courses] is created within the class,” and does not exist in textbooks or literary works.   

“Our classes really should become … a discourse community where we are building ideas and concepts together,” she says. “If students are participating in that, I think they remember it better.”

In a recent study by the University of Toronto, students that partake in small group activities and discussions have a better understanding of the core course content, in comparison to students who sit in lecture-driven classes. For Manarin, it is also an opportunity to help introverts in her class, where student discussions can amount up to 20 per cent of their grades.

“You don’t want to give them the options of like a D or an A in the class,” says Manarin, adding that her courses require students to participate in both small and big group discussions.  

“I find that some people, even though they’re willing to participate in [a] small group [discussion], there is no possible way they’re going to speak in [a] big group [discussion],” she says.

To help students get an A, Manarin accepts students’ discussion notes as an alternative to participating in graded discussions.  

She adds that one or two students in a class of at least 25, do choose the latter when participating.

It can be better

Mallari says it would have been better if he had more options, adding that discussions with small groups of students are more comfortable to work with.   

As for Canon, she says that things are slowly getting better.

“It was like haywire back then,” Canon adds.

“I realize that in life, you need to actually force yourself to get through situations in order to go to the next level and by doing so, I’ve been forcing myself to participate.”

Editor: Amber McLinden | 

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