Open Journal of Nursing, 2013, 3, 503-515 OJN Published Online November 2013 (
Responding to introverted and shy students: Best
practice guidelines for educators and advisors
Marian Condon, Lisa Ruth-Sahd
York College of Pennsylvania, York, USA
Received 2 July 213; revised 1 October 2013; accepted 22 November 2013
Copyright © 2013 Marian Condon, Lisa Ruth-Sahd. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribu-
tion License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly
Experienced classroom educators are familiar with
students commonly thought of as introverted or shy
the noticeably quiet students who are reluctant to
speak in class, and generally shun the spotlight. Ma ny
educators find such students perplexing and frus-
trating because they rarely raise their hands in class,
or engage in conversation afterward. It is difficult for
educators to discern whether they are reaching such
students or whether they are engaged or bored. In-
troverted students differ from their more extroverted
peers in terms of information processing, classroom
behavior, and preferences regarding assignments and
activities. As educators, we often ask ourselves whe-
ther we are doing all we can, as educators and advis-
ers, to foster such students’ learning and personal
development, and this question is highly relevant in
contemporary education. Introverts are thought to
comprise approximately 40 percent of the student
body. In addition, cultural background may foster
behaviors similar to those observed in shy and/or in-
troverted individuals. In this article, introversion,
extroversion and shyness are compared and contrast-
ed conceptually, as well as in terms of related social
and academic behaviors and processes. The questions
of whether introversion and shyness confer problem-
atic traits, whether students should be helped to over-
come or signature strengths, and whether they might
be guided to develop further, are also addressed. Best
practice guidelines intended to help nurse-faculty re-
spond more helpfully to quiet students as educators
and advisors are offered.
Keywords: Introversion; Extroversion; Shyness
According to a study by Schaubhut & Thompson [1],
including over 100,000 students enrolled in 75 different
majors at institutions of higher learning, the majority of
college majors have equal numbers of introverted and
extroverted students. This result is congruent with a sur-
vey conducted between 2007 and 2010, by researchers at
the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT)
who found that 40.6% of the college students sampled
were introverts (L. Abbitt, Librarian at CAPT, Nov. 4,
2012 telephone communication). Pannapacker [2] sug-
gests that this estimate may be low because of the cul-
tural stigma attached to introversion and consequently,
some students are unwilling to admit, even confidentially,
preferences such as staying home and reading in lieu of
attending a social event.
Introversion and shyness can affect students’ social
life on campus and influence strongly the ways in which
students prefer to receive and process information in the
classroom [3]. There is no question that introversion
confers valuable strengths: introverts tend to be better
than extroverts at thinking before they act, taking in and
processing information thoroughly, remaining on task,
and working more accurately. Their non-combative na-
ture and willingness to listen make them easy to get
along with. According to Cain [4], introverted students’
biggest challenge may be recognizing, acknowledging
and making use of their own gifts. Introverts sometimes
try so hard to appear more extroverted that they exhaust
themselves, undervalue their own talents and allow
themselves to be intimidated by the louder, more forceful
extroverts in the classroom.
Shyness, on the other hand, does not seem to confer
any benefit, at least in the dominant American culture.
Shyness is a painful trait that can inhibit social interac-
tion and the public demonstration of competencies. Shy
individuals have been found to have lower self-esteem
than comparable individuals who are not shy, and are
more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety [5].
According to CAPT’s most recent survey, introverts and
M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515
extroverts are about equally represented among the pro-
fessoriate as well with extroverts at 52.8% and introverts
at 49.6% (L. Abbitt, Research Librarian at CAPT, e-mail
communication). Therefore, providing a balanced mix of
introvert-friendly and extrovert-friendly teaching and
learning modalities seems to be fair to all concerned as
that strategy allows the professor, as well as the intro-
verted and extroverted students, to have their preferences
honored approximately half the time. However, students
who are highly introverted and/or shy will find class-
room activities and assignments requiring extroverting
behaviors unpleasant and difficult. Thus, the question
arises of whether or to what degree it is in those students’
best interest for faculty to compel them to participate in,
and be graded on exercises for which they are constitu-
tionally ill-suited. Should faculty allow quiet students to
opt out of all or some of the activities and assignments
that require extroverting behavior? Should they penalize
quiet students for appearing nervous and ill at ease while
A paucity of resources on how best to deal with intro-
verted and shy students was noted in the nursing litera-
ture. Searches in CINAHL (introspection), MEDLINE
(introversion) and ERIC (introversion, extroversion and
shyness) yielded only five articles. Only one was spe-
cifically related to nursing education and that was in
Taiwan [6], the other four were in journals not specifi-
cally related to nursing education.
2.1. Factors that May Underlie Quiet, Reticent
Quiet, reticent behavior may be related to introversion,
shyness, ethnic background, or some combination of the
three. While introversion and shyness are often con-
founded, they are distinct from one another conceptually
and in terms of behavior.
2.1.1. Extroversion/Introversion
In the early 1920s psychologist Carl Jung [7] published
his theory of human personality. He used the term Psy-
chological Type to refer to the relative degree to which
individuals possess what he referred to as extraverted
and introverted attitudes. Jung defined extroversion and
introversion in terms of two central processes: directing
attention and deriving personal energy. Jung used the
term extroversion to refer to the dual processes of focus-
ing on, and deriving energy from the outer world (out-
ward orientation), and the term introversion to refer to
the process of focusing on and drawing energy from in-
ner psychic activity (inner orientation). Thus, for Jung,
extroverts are relatively more focused on the activities
and things in the world around them than on their interior
lives. Introverts, in contrast, are contemplative and self-
reflective. Their energy is drained, rather than replenish-
ed, by the outside world.
Extroversion/introversion (also written extraversion/
intraversion) is identified in the psychological literature
as a highly important dimension of human personality
that imposes physiological limits on who we are and how
we act, although within those limits, behavior can vary
according to circumstance. A given person’s degree of
extroversion or introversion influences a surprising num-
ber of aspects of how that individual thinks, feels and
interacts with the world at large [8]. Psychometric tests,
e.g. the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the
Revised Five Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) are used to
determine whether an individual is extroverted or intro-
verted, and to what extent.
Other theorists have elaborated on, and in some cases,
departed somewhat from Jung’s theory [7]. For example,
Isobel Myers [9,10], who developed the MBTI, concep-
tualized extraversion and introversion as polar opposites
on a continuum, as opposed to Jung’s discrete but op-
posing qualities. McCrae and Costa [11], who included
extroversion in their Five Factor (openness, conscien-
tiousness, extroversion, anxiety and neuroticism) model
of human personality, defined introversion as the relative
absence of traits such as sociability and assertiveness
rather than as inner-directedness. The term reflective has
been used to describe the learning styles of which intro-
version is a component [12]. Table 1 highlights some
core differences between introverts and extroverts. While
Type is obvious in highly-introverted and highly extro-
verted people, it is not always so in slightly introverted
individuals or in those who possess an approximately
equal number of introverted and extroverted characteris-
tics (ambiversion). Another factor is that introverts may
deliberately attempt to appear to be extroverted because
the characteristics associated with extroversion are val-
ued highly in contemporary Western culture [13].
2.1.2. Shyness
Shyness, which can range from bashful timidity and/or
wary watchfulness to social avoidance, bears some simi-
larity to introversion in that it, too, can give rise to reti-
cent behavior. Shy students have difficulty with small
talk, are slow to share their feelings and typically do not
reciprocate when feelings are disclosed by others [14].
However, shyness, also known as behavioral inhibition
and anxious temperament, is a distinct personality con-
struct that differs from introversion in some important
ways, one being motivation. While a shy student and an
introvert might both remain on the sidelines during a
class activity, they would have different reasons for do-
ing so: the shy person might well want to interact
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
more, but would be prevented from doing so by fear of
social disapproval, while the introvert would be limiting
her social interaction out of preference—because she
does not enjoy social interaction with strangers, and is
attempting to conserve energy. Unlike introversion, shy-
ness is rooted in social anxiety, which is defined as a “···
fretful disquiet that stems from the prospect of negative
evaluations from others [15]”. Shy individuals see them-
selves as somehow personally deficient, which leads to
feelings of self-blame and shame [16]. A key difference
between introversion and shyness is that shyness is a
painful way of being, while introversion is not. The Re-
vised Cheek and Buss Shyness Scale [17] is commonly
used to measure the degree to which a given individual is
shy. More recently, Bortnik, Henderson and Zimbardo
[16] devised the Shy Q, an inventory lay persons can use
to assess themselves for shy tendencies. Table 2 high-
lights some similarities and differences between intro-
version and shyness.
When shyness causes students to avoid professors and
limits speaking up in class, it, like introversion, can
compromise academic performance [18]. When shy stu-
dents are in an environment, such as a classroom, that
arouses their fear of negative evaluation, they may suffer
embarrassing manifestations such as blushing, sweating,
stammering, shaking hands or knees and even dizziness
[19]. Sheldon [20] studied the relationship between un-
willingness to communicate and students’ Facebook use
and found that shy and introverted students are more
likely to use Facebook and other social media to connect
with classmates.
2.1.3. Cul tural Backgro un d
Quiet, reticent behavior may also be a function of cultur-
al background. While the United States is considered to
be a highly extroverted nation in comparison with other
countries [21,22], its population includes growing num-
bers of immigrants from what has been dubbed The
Confucian-Belt: China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam [4].
Traditionally, such cultures share collectivist values, i.e.
Table 1. Introverts and extroverts.
Introverts Extroverts
Quiet; reticent Talkative; comfortable in the spotlight
Reflective; introspective Active; highly engaged with the outside world
Serious Light-hearted
Think before speaking Think while speaking
Reclusive Gregarious; outgoing
Risk-aversive; cautious Bold
Uncomfortable with conflict Assertive; dominant
Prefer small gatherings with friends Comfortable in larger groups that include strangers
Tentative; deliberative Enthusiastic; make quick decisions
Drained by the outside world; need to time spend time alone to rechargeEnergized by the outside world; prone to boredom when alone
Table 2. Introversion & shyness: Similarities & differences.
Introverts Shy People
Traits arise from preference Traits arise from low self-esteem & social anxiety
Quiet & reticent Quiet & reticent
Reclusive Reclusive
Reflective & observant Also reflective & observant
Good listeners Good listeners
Risk-aversive; cautious Risk-aversive; cautious
Uncomfortable with conflict Uncomfortable with conflict
Need time to think before speaking Need time to think before speaking only if introverted as well as shy
Find making small talk with strangers difficult; prefer small gatherings
with friends
Find making small talk with strangers difficult; prefer small gather-
ings with friends. This is doubly true for those who are introverted as
well as shy.
Feel drained by the outside world.
Feel drained by the outside world due to their anxiety about being
judged. Shy people who are also introverted have two reasons for
experiencing group interactions as draining.
M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515
a given group is considered more important than the in-
dividuals who comprise it. Collectivist cultures foster
and reward the characteristics associated with introver-
sion: studiousness, modesty, abhorrence of the spotlight
and reluctance to speak in groups. Silence is seen as
connoting seriousness and depth—one speaks only when
one has something substantive to say, and only after
careful consideration. The student role in traditional
Asian culture is to sit quietly and take notes while the
professor does all the talking; there is no expectation that
students will participate in discussions because students
are not seen as learning resources for one another.
In contrast, the United States and most European
countries share individualistic values; students and wor-
kers are expected to distinguish themselves and are rec-
ognized and rewarded for doing so. Consequently, new
immigrants and second generation Americans who’ve
retained traditional Confucian-Belt values are often un-
comfortable and at a disadvantage in American schools
[23], and later, in American workplaces.
Interestingly, Psychological Type has been found to
over-ride cultural values. Hutchinson and Gul [24] and
Li, Chen and Tsai [6] found that Chinese students who
held collectivist beliefs, and thus might be expected to
prefer learning in groups if given the chance, preferred
group learning only if they had extroverted personalities.
If they had introverted personalities, they were averse to
group learning in spite of their collectivist values. Con-
versely, Type can boost culturally-related preferences. In
the same study, extroverted Chinese students who held
collectivist views preferred group learning even more
than did their extroverted peers who held individualistic
2.2. Social Behavior in Introverted and Shy
Introverted and shy individuals’ social behavior tends to
differ from that of extroverted individuals in a number of
ways that are relevant to educators and advisers. Some of
the social behaviors/preferences associated with both
introversion and shyness may be seen as weaknesses
(both by introverts/shy people themselves and by others)
because contemporary American culture embraces what
Cain [4] has dubbed the Extrovert Ideal: “··· the omni-
present belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and
comfortable in the spotlight”. In comparison with more
extroverted students, quiet students tend to be less social,
less likely to confide in people they don’t know well and
less comfortable with confrontation and conflict.
2.2.1. Soci al i zing
Introverted individuals tend to socialize less than extro-
verts because they prefer to spend substantial amounts of
time alone—reading or online, or just communing with
themselves. Although the more introverted a particular
individual is, the more solitude she or he is likely to seek,
most introverts are not antisocial—they do have friends.
Rather than having a number of casual friends, however,
introverts typically have only a few close friends with
whom they have very meaningful relationships. Some
highly introverted individuals may have little or no de-
sire for social contact outside their families [4]. Shy peo-
ple also tend to socialize less often than extroverts, due
to their fears about being judged.
The downside to having an introverted and/or shy na-
ture is two-fold: being judged unfairly by others and
having difficulty making friends. Introverts and shy per-
sons are often seen by classmates and educators who
don’t understand them as afraid of people, antisocial and
socially inept [25]. One of introverts’ strengths, however,
is that they make excellent friends; they are good listen-
ers and often have a wealth of information—about which
they are perfectly willing to speak at length with people
whom they trust. Because introverts tend to be highly
observant [26], they pay attention to the people and
things in their close proximity, and are good at detecting
the nuance of various situations. Their heightened aware-
ness of the subtleties of social interaction, and their ten-
dency to scrutinize carefully allows them to provide val-
uable feedback. Shy people possess some of the same
strengths as introverts in that they are sensitive to others
and make good listeners [4].
2.2.2. Discl osing Feelings and Knowledge
Introverted and shy individuals do not typically disclose
their feelings to others unless they know them well, and
may not volunteer to share information the way more
extroverted people often do. The downside of their re-
luctance to disclose their feelings and spontaneously
contribute information is that extroverted classmates,
educators and faculty advisors may see them as secretive.
Also, friends who do not understand introversion/shyness
can feel hurt and offended when important developments
are not shared promptly, and can begin to doubt the
strength and depth of the relationship [4].
2.2.3. C onfronting
Introverts and shy people tend to be uncomfortable with
open conflict and consequently avoid it [27]. Thus, if
they are dissatisfied with a grade or have an issue with a
classmate, they are likely to raise their concern—if they
raise it at all—in a relatively muted, non-aggressive way.
When confronted by an overtly angry individual, intro-
verts and shy folk tend to withdraw or become silent, and
may attempt to minimize future contact with that indi-
vidual. Extroverts, in contrast, are usually more comfort-
able with confrontation, and tend to express their anger
more spontaneously and forcefully.
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M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515 507
2.3. Introverted and Shy Students in the
Introverted and shy people are also distinct, in their re-
spective ways, from extroverts in terms of information
processing, preferences regarding assignments and in-
class activities, cognitive strengths and what is known as
reward sensitivity.
2.3.1. Taking in and Processing Information
Introverted students prefer to process information in-
wardly, which means they would rather sit quietly in
classes and take in and ponder lecture content as opposed
to participating in discussions or group learning activities
[28]. Such learning should not be misconstrued as pas-
sive; reflecting is as much an active process as discussing
[29]. Introverts learn via their internal processes, whereas
extroverts benefit from having the opportunity to express
new learning outwardly, in the form of oral communica-
tion. It is common for extroverts to think they’ve mas-
tered some element of course content when they have not,
and realize their learning is incomplete only after they
have attempted unsuccessfully to verbalize the material
to another person. Dyadic and small-group work wherein
students critique each other’s understanding of material
is ideal for extroverted students, but less so for their in-
troverted counterparts, who may find fielding unantici-
pated, spontaneous questions from peers taxing. Shy
students who are extroverted may be prevented by their
shyness to discuss course content with other students and
Introverted students benefit from in-class and assigned
exercises that link interconnecting material; they want to
see how a given topic relates to information presented in
the course and to real-life application. Introverts are less
attracted to new knowledge and need to fit elements of
new learning into the big picture; to an introvert, discon-
nected chunks constitute only information, not knowl-
edge. Introverts benefit from exercises such as summa-
rizing, writing critiques, constructing concept maps, si-
milarity/difference tables, etc., and tracking progress on
projects [12,30].
2.3.2. Worki ng in Groups
In situations such as small and large group discussion,
introverts tend to speak up less than extroverts; they pre-
fer to listen to what classmates are saying, and need to
think about what they might say before they contribute.
This is thought to be because whereas extroverts develop
their thoughts by drawing upon small amounts of infor-
mation stored in their short-term memory, introverts re-
call thoughts stored in their long-term memory for the
purpose of building more complex associations. Thus,
introverts need more time to develop their ideas before
they feel comfortable expressing them [31]. Shy students
also tend to be silent in groups, but their reticence is due
to fear of social judgment.
In settings where games or other group activities are
taking place, introverts often remain on the sidelines,
taking in information and preparing themselves to par-
ticipate [25]. Shy students also tend to remain on the
perimeter of activities, as a function of their social anxi-
ety. Extroverts, in contrast, tend to be outspoken, gre-
garious, confident, and quick to join class activities.
2.3.3. Speaking and Presenting in Class
Introverted and shy students are typically uncomfortable
with being called upon to answer questions in class.
Moderately introverted students may be more comfort-
able with being called on than shy students, providing
they have been forewarned and given adequate time to
process their thoughts on the topic. Participating in
full-class discussions tends to be unpleasant not only for
shy students but for introverts as well, because even if
they are familiar with the material to be addressed, dis-
cussion involves contributing on the fly, with no time for
inner editing. Also, topics can change quickly during
discussions and introverts cannot switch their attention
from one thing to another as fluidly and easily as extro-
verts. Dyadic or small group discussion is preferable for
introverted students, particularly if they have had time to
bone up on the topic to be addressed and are acquainted
with group-mates. Introverted students also do better in
groups when they have an assigned task, such as taking
notes, keeping track of time, etc. [32,33].
Unfortunately, research done on faculty beliefs about
the implications of student behaviors suggests that edu-
cators tend to correlate behaviors such as not raising
one’s hand in class, not making eye-contact and not in-
teracting much with others with lower intelligence and
decreased learning potential [34].
A quote from Robert J. Coplan, a shyness researcher
in Ottawa, Canada, as noted in Cain [4] sums up the
plight of shy and introverted students in contemporary
schools and colleges:
“Whoever designed the context of the modern class-
room was certainly not thinking of the shy or quiet stu-
dents. With often-crowded, high-stimulation rooms and a
focus on oral performance—the modern classroom is the
quiet student’s worst nightmare—if a teacher asks a
question and the student doesn’t answer right away, the
most common thing is the teacher doesn’t have time to
sit and wait, but has to go on to someone else, and in the
back of their head might think that student is not as intel-
ligent or didn’t do the homework.”
Interestingly, and perhaps alarmingly, teacher bias
against shy, quiet students is a knife that cuts both ways;
students seem to be biased against educators who are less
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M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515
than dynamic in the classroom [35]. A study done by
Tryon [36] seems to corroborate the importance of fac-
ulty animation and enthusiasm to be highly correlated
with student satisfaction and perceived degree of learn-
ing. When the same professor delivered identical content
during two successive semesters, and held the exercises
and assignments constant with the only variable being
delivery, student evaluations were significantly more
positive in the semester during which the professor had
been intentionally more animated and enthused. It would
seem that introverted educators would be well-advised to
manifest, if possible, as extroverted a demeanor in the
classroom as they can muster. Happily, some have the
ability to do just that; introverts high in a trait known as
self-monitoring are adept at extroverting on demand. The
self-monitoring trait confers the ability to modify one’s
behavior in order to conform to perceived social expecta-
tions by gauging accurately what behaviors are appropri-
ate in various situations and mimicking others who dis-
play the desired behavior.
2.3.4. Writing
Written work is an area in which shy and introverted
students can really shine, provided they have sufficient
mastery of writing skills. Introverts will wish to have
time to process their thoughts and polish their work be-
fore it is submitted as they prefer to keep rough written
work private until they have had time to reflect and per-
fect. They may, however, be willing to allow a trusted
study partner or friend to provide them with feedback on
written projects before they are submitted or presented
[37]. Neither introverts nor shy people will appreciate
exercises that require them to share extemporaneous in-
class writing with either peers or the professor, but may
well enjoy sharing their views anonymously, via class-
room clicker systems and electronic devices that allow
them to choose among options projected on a screen.
Introverted and shy individuals are generally more will-
ing to disclose their feelings, even to large groups, via
electronic media than during face-to-face interactions
[38]. Stritzke, Nguyen and Durkin [39], found that stu-
dents high in the personality trait openness liked using
Internet technologies while students low in openness felt
that virtual courses were inferior to the on-campus vari-
ety. Overbaugh and Lin [40] found that introverted stu-
dents performed better in the online than the lab compo-
nent of a course that had both, and that the opposite was
true for extroverted students.
2.3.5. Seeking Rewards
The term reward sensitivity refers to the degree to which
an individual is attracted to and excited by activities and
pursuits that seem likely to yield a reward of some kind—
a desirable sensation or emotion, a good grade, or a bo-
nus or some other symbol of formal recognition. Reward
sensitivity may be one of the factors that make extro-
verted students relatively more willing to have attention
called to them in the classroom. Unfortunately, once
aroused by a possible reward, reward-sensitive people
are prone to ignoring warning signs that pursuing the
reward might be a bad idea, that doing so might be dan-
gerous or lead to undesirable consequences.
Some theorists, e.g. Cohen, Young, Baek, Kessler and
Ranganath [41] see reward sensitivity, rather than an
outward orientation, as the actual heart of extroversion—
its true defining quality. There is, of course, debate on
this point, but, extroverts derive more positive emotion
from awards than introverts, and are thus more likely to
go out of their way to get them. Introverts pursue re-
wards less often than extroverts and seem to be pro-
grammed in such a way that their vigilance kicks in as
soon as they feel themselves getting excited by the idea
of pursuing a reward [42]. Introverts’ ability to resist
awards is seen as a strength, as they are less likely to
pursue risky ventures themselves, and therefore less
likely to lead their organizations into them.
2.3.6. Sol vi ng Problems
Introverts’ tendency to think carefully about things may
contribute to their ability to excel in what is known as
insightful problem solving. When introverted and extro-
verted subjects were given printed mazes to negotiate,
the introverts spent more time inspecting their mazes and
were able to solve more mazes correctly [43]. Extroverts
tend to spend less time thinking about problems and situ-
ations; they are quicker to take action, and are thus prone
to sacrificing accuracy for speed [44]. Introverts also
tend to have more perseverance [45,46] when attempting
difficult tasks. Introverts outperform extroverts [47] on
the Watson-Glaser, a test that appraises critical thinking
skills. Extroverts, however, tend to do better than intro-
verts on some kinds of cognitive tasks: they are better at
multi-tasking, better at handling information overload,
and better at working under time and social pressure
Introverts’ superior problem solving ability may ex-
plain, at least partially, why they outperform extroverts
in high school and in college [49]. Introverts are over-
represented in the ranks of National Merit Scholarship
finalists and among members of Phi Beta Kappa, and
receive disproportionate numbers of graduate degrees
[50]. While introverts and extroverts are equally intelli-
gent, overall, introversion predicts academic perform-
ance better than intelligence quotient [51]. Introverts’
problem solving and critical thinking abilities are definite
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. OPEN ACCESS
M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Advising students is a big part of the faculty role and one
that often causes stress among faculty who strive to be
vigilant in their advising practice. Educators who under-
stand the nature of introversion and shyness can make
their classroom a safer and more pleasant environment
for quiet students without sacrificing the integrity of their
courses. They can adjust course requirements, and the
manner in which they relate personally to students, so
that students can grow without suffering unduly. For best
practice guidelines for faculty and faculty advisors see
Table 3.
3.1. Making Decisions about Class Participation
Almost all the participation-related content in the litera-
ture is geared toward helping educators find ways to in-
duce reluctant students to participate. While it is true that
extroverted skills are still valued highly in many educa-
tional settings, the idea that being both highly participa-
tory and conversationally adroit is of supreme impor-
tance to success in numerous fields of endeavor is being
increasingly challenged.
Cain [4] attacks the assumption that extroverting be-
haviors reap more rewards than introverting behaviors
directly and has amassed evidence supporting the virtues
and value of less participatory, relatively quiet individu-
als. In the book Rethinking Classroom Participation [52],
Schultz argues that students’ silence, universally seen by
educators as negative, can be conceptualized differently:
silence can mean a student is thinking about the concepts
being presented, a positive thing, or that a student from a
culture in which silence is valued is simply conforming,
i.e., behaving in what to him is an appropriate manner.
Similarly, silence on the part of introverted or shy stu-
dents can be interpreted as a laudatory assertion of per-
sonal preference or self-protection, rather than as a sin of
omission rooted in weakness. Moreover, there is no cor-
relation between students’ propensity for verbal partici-
pation and grades [29]. We recommend that faculty
weigh these and other considerations when making deci-
sions about instructional and evaluative methodology:
time allocated to small/large group discussion, whether
students who do not participate in discussion will be pe-
nalized, whether to assign in-class presentations and
whether to permit students to opt out of doing presenta-
tions, or choose the manner in which they will partici-
3.2. Responding to Quiet Students
Educators who have relinquished their role as Sage on
the Stage and embraced student-centered teaching typi-
cally allocate classroom time to student activities that
involve speaking. As speaking publically tends to make
introverted and shy students uncomfortable, faculty must
weigh its potential befit against potential harm.
There is evidence that quiet students can benefit when
professors assist them to at least mitigate their aversion
to public discourse through practice. In the online news-
letter Faculty Focus [51] titled Shy Students in the
Classroom: What Does It Take to Improve Participation?
Bart reflected upon her experience as an excellent but
shy college student who never participated in class—no
matter how familiar she was with the material under dis-
cussion—and recounted the ways in which she benefitted
when a professor she liked and trusted took her aside,
encouraged her to speak up more and enumerated the
reasons he thought doing so would be good for her. Over
time, with the professor’s support, participating in that
class became easier for Bart and she eventually found
Table 3. Best practices summary.
The following practices related to teaching and advising are recommended for faculty consideration:
1) Accept introversion and shyness as legitimate and normal features of personality. Do not convey disapproval of related behaviors or misinterpret
them as evidence of dullness, disinterest, disrespect, etc.
2) Allocate a reasonable portion of class time to introvert/shy person-friendly activities such as listening to lectures, watching videos, reflecting
quietly and working on projects individually.
3) Refrain from calling on students randomly, particularly with no advance warning. Consider announcing discussion topics ahead of time.
4) Consider discarding one-size-fits-all constellations of grading criteria in favor of a range of options that allows customization. Collaborate with
students in the goal-setting process.
5) Provide students who are attempting to improve their mastery of extroverting behaviors (such as volunteering to answer questions in class and
participating in the delivery phase of presentations) with instrumental and emotional support. Take care not to criticize them in front of the class.
6) Where appropriate, consider including basic information about introversion and shyness among the topics addressed in courses.
7) When students confide interpersonal or academic difficulties that may be related to Type or shyness, provide relevant information and apprise
them of appropriate campus and on-line resources.
8) When students express dissatisfaction with their major area of study, assist them in considering alternatives, using the procedure suggested by
Little (2011) and/or refer them to the Academic Advising Office and/or the Career Counseling Center.
M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515
herself raising her hand even when the professor had not
been staring at her encouragingly.
Speaking up becomes easier with practice, as illus-
trated by an educator [52] who has had experience with
trying to land a non-academic job. The following quote
illustrates its importance in a circumstance that would no
doubt resonate with students:
“Being an introvert presents problems for a Real-
World job seeker. To the two extroverted career coaches
who were making their pitch and evaluating my response,
I appeared to be unenthusiastic, even uninterested, in the
process. In a job interview, a misunderstanding like that
would be fatal to my prospects ···. I was able to take a
lesson from that initial encounter: No matter how un-
natural it feels, I have to project my energy outward dur-
ing the job search [53].”
While it can be argued that students benefit from
learning to function, to some degree, outside their com-
fort zone, mandating spontaneous verbal commentary
from students whose intrinsic nature leads them to want
to reflect before speaking does not serve them because
being more or less forced to speak up can be extremely
threatening. Thus, we believe faculty should think twice
before they attempt to push resistant students into par-
ticipating in discussion, particularly large group discus-
sions. Rather, we advocate a more transactional approach;
professors should make decisions about how much they
will encourage a given individual to speak up in collabo-
ration with that individual.
College students are, after all, adult learners and may
be able to gage, perhaps better than educators, what is
best for them. Professors will serve reticent students best
by exploring their professional goals with them and
helping them weigh the potential benefits of becoming
more participatory against the degree to which doing so
would be inimical. Faculty must realize that some stu-
dents suffer dreadfully when forced to speak in class and
that it may well be in their best interests to refrain from
doing so. Certainly, faculty should not engage in the
practice of posing a question in class, calling immedi-
ately upon a selected student, and expecting a coherent
and correct answer. The intense discomfort students can
experience when ambushed in that manner is described
the following quote from the comments section of the
Faculty Focus post mentioned above:
I hate it when professors call on me ··· my heart races,
my face turns bright red, I feel suddenly stupid, and my
mind wanders ···. I’ve actually been known to cry when I
am forced to answer a question ···. I understand what
they are trying to do, but there is no help for this student.
I really, can’t say it enough, I appreciate professors who
offer other ways of participation such as moodle discus-
sion forums, or writing an anonomys [sic.] answer down
on a sheet of paper, or anonomys [sic.] white board an-
swers. Thanks to the professors who actually care!
Paradoxically, it is not only students who may find
speaking up in class difficult. Introverted and/or shy
educators may find the actual teaching challenging. A
professor writing under the pseudonym Benton [30] in
the Chronicle of Higher Education recounted his strug-
gles with shyness during graduate school and later in the
context of his job, and his efforts to ameliorate the plight
of the shy students in his classes:
“Graduate seminars were particularly painful for me.
Sometimes I was so tense that my jaw would hurt by the
end of the class. I always wanted to speak, but I also
feared looking ignorant compared with other graduate
students, who always seemed more confident at express-
ing themselves. Every stuttering, incompetent comment I
made was a humiliation that I would remember vividly
for months ···. I have taught at least 40 classes, but I still
find teaching stressful, particularly after the summer
break or a sabbatical. As the first day approaches, I’ll
begin to worry: Will my voice tremble? Will I sweat
profusely? Will I forget my lesson plan? Will I lose their
confidence right away? ··· Because of my own struggle
with shyness, I recognize that many—perhaps most—of
my students suffer from it in one context or another. I
don’t see myself as some kind of role model for shy stu-
dents, but my experiences help me to understand how
any predisposition toward shyness in students is exacer-
bated by a highly competitive, critical, or hostile envi-
ronment ···. I try to pay attention to the more shy stu-
dents and give them low-risk opportunities to speak,
even if it’s only one or two words. In all of my courses, I
set up online “discussion boards” on which students can
post comments and ask questions [29].”
The anonymous professor’s post supports our conten-
tion that students for whom speaking up in class is truly
excruciating should not be forced into it, and demon-
strates that faculty have the option of broadening their
definition of class participation to include such shy per-
son/introvert-friendly [54] activities as using student re-
sponse systems (e.g. clickers) in class, contributing to
conversations in discussion forums, identifying addi-
tional topic-relevant resources for the class, or preparing
a written reflections on class activities or content. Shy
students are known to spend more time online than non-
shy students and to prefer chat and instant messaging
over face-to-face communication [50]. Senechal [55] re-
commends that educators invite introverted and/or shy
students to discuss course topics with them privately, but
acknowledges the time-consuming nature of that option.
While the occasional student may decide to opt out of
all class activities that involve speaking up, many will be
willing to stretch themselves if the possible rewards are
made clear and they are assured of assistance and support.
Such students will benefit from knowing in advance
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M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515 511
what topics will be discussed in a given class and the
specific questions they will be expected to address.
Because quiet students may well be shy and shy peo-
ple are easily embarrassed [15], it is imperative that
educators be gentle with students who have relinquished
the shore and are braving the swift and unpredictable
current of public discourse. The response to an incorrect
answer should be an encouraging, almost ··· or youre
getting warm ···, rather than a brusque and censorious no!
or wrong! Introverted students, and likely those who are
shy and/or highly sensitive, respond more positively to
gentle, as opposed to aggressive, mannerisms and lan-
guage. Schaeffer [56] found that students who were ex-
posed to intimidation over time from faculty in a nursing
program tended to suffer actual psychological and physi-
ological symptoms, including anxiety, depression, gas-
tro-intestinal disease, and mood disorders.
There are other strategies professors can use to make it
easier for quiet students to speak up more in class. Post-
ing discussion topics a day or so ahead of time allows
students time to formulate questions and comments in
advance. Response rotations can be set up so that on a
given day, a certain subset of the students knows it is
their day to contribute to discussion; quiet students are
more likely to speak in class if they know they are ex-
pected to do so [31].
3.3. Making Decisions about In-Class
In-class presentations are another bane of introverted and
shy students, as presenting usually combines group work
with being in the spotlight. While we believe really pho-
bic, completely unwilling students should be allowed to
participate only in the preparation phase of a presentation,
or complete an alternate assignment, there is something
to be said for the idea that moderately introverted and/or
shy individuals benefit from learning how to make a
presentation to an audience, as uncomfortable as that
might be. Presentation skills are important in a wide
range of fields, and many introverts are capable of learn-
ing how to extrovert quite effectively, if given opportu-
nities to practice.
The purpose of requiring students to present, however,
should be explained, and reluctant students’ discomfort
acknowledged, and treated as a normal and common re-
sponse rather than as evidence of some intrinsic defect.
Moreover, in nursing courses, which are not typically
focused on communication itself, students should be
graded solely on content. Their degree of animation, re-
laxation, spontaneity, etc., should not affect their grade
because the threat of punishment exacerbates communi-
cation apprehension, and communication apprehension
affects communication skill negatively [57]. Thus, pres-
entations should be considered formative exercises, at
least in terms of presentation skills.
Faculty can foster a positive and supportive classroom
environment by modeling compassionate behavior for
the class—they can commend nervous presenters’ cour-
age and comment publically only on their strengths.
Students in general, and introverts/shy people in particu-
lar, will benefit from rehearsing their presentations and
from anticipating, and preparing for, possible questions
from the audience.
Even when they decide to participate only in the de-
livery phase of a given presentation, introverted or shy
students can learn a valuable lesson—that it is possible to
share their ideas powerfully without necessarily resorting
to means more suited to extroverts [4]. Also, it will bene-
fit both quiet and outgoing students to experience the
relative ease that comes with playing to their strengths,
i.e. pursuing avenues of endeavor to which they are
temperamentally suited. Introverts will enjoy, and be
good at, gathering and organizing information during the
presentation’s assembly phase, while extroverts will rel-
ish the opportunity to ham it up during the actual deliv-
In school, as in life, many different types of skills are
needed to carry out a substantial project of any kind and
both introverts and extroverts will benefit from becoming
aware of what the opposite type has to offer. It is par-
ticularly important that extroverts recognize introverts’
multifaceted strengths and understand that it is a mistake
to underestimate or disregard input from relatively quiet
people who do not present their views in a forceful man-
ner. In a similar vein, one of the most valuable things
educators can do for introverted and shy students is to
point out and commend their observational and analytical
strengths. Quiet students are sometimes so focused on
trying to emulate extroverts that they fail to note and
appreciate their own gifts [4].
The recommendations above boil down to respect—
respect for students as human beings with unique con-
stellations of existing knowledge, life experiences,
strengths and weaknesses and cultural backgrounds. In-
deed, respect seems to be the characteristic students most
value in professors. In a survey of over 17,000 undergra-
duate and graduate students, Delaney, Johnson, Johnson
and Treslan [32] found that respect for faculty was the
characteristic most often cited as essential for effective
teaching. Educators who customize requirements within
the framework of their courses are demonstrating their
respect for students as individuals. An added benefit of
allowing students to make decisions about how they will
learn, and the standards of performance toward which
they will strive, is that students will experience, and learn
from, the results of their choices [56]. Faculty also bene-
fit because they can observe students in the process of
analyzing course materials and tackling problems, and
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M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515
can then use their expertise to intercede as necessary—a
creative and fulfilling aspect of the teaching role [3].
3.4. Allotting Classroom Time for Reflection
It has been argued [4,29,55] that contemporary class-
rooms are excessively activity-oriented and noisy to the
detriment of contemplation, which is preferred by intro-
verts and good for extroverts, who may benefit from
strengthening their capacity for it. We recommend that
during most class sessions, faculty allocate 5 or so min-
utes to quiet time during which students can think about
material presented in a lecture or film, or a question or
issue soon to be discussed. We recommend also that fac-
ulty allow students to perform analytical exercises, such
as formulating questions, identifying assumptions, com-
paring and contrasting, etc., by themselves, instead of in
small groups.
Just as approximately half the students in a randomly
chosen class are likely to be introverts, half of a given
teacher’s advisees will be, also, at least in most majors.
Shy students are likely to be well-represented, also. Ad-
visors can use their understanding of the implications of
introversion and shyness to educate advisees on their
way of being and to assist students who are experiencing
related social difficulties, academic problems or dissatis-
faction with their major program of study.
4.1. Providing Information
Simply having their introversion and/or shyness ac-
knowledged and accepted as normal by an advisor, and
being made aware of potentially useful coping mecha-
nisms and resources, will benefit students enormously.
The quote below was posted on a website under the nom
de guerre “Truculent” (undated) as an answer to the
question “What would the world be like if introverts ran
it? [53]”
“The world will understand us. And our introverted
kids won’t go through what we’ve been through because
people didn’t understand us. The age of 16 - 20 for me
was the worst period of my life (I’m almost 21 now) be-
cause of people not understanding me, and I didn’t un-
derstand myself also [55].”
Advisors can provide students with concise informa-
tional handouts on introversion and shyness and on the
resources their school has to offer. Most schools have a
college and career advising office at which students re-
ferred by educators or advisors can take the MBTI and
have the implications of their results explained to them.
Most schools also have counseling centers that may well
provide support groups for students, and individual
counseling as needed.
4.2. Assisting Advisees with Social Difficulties
Advisors who understand introversion and shyness can
be on the alert for student accounts of problems that may
be Type-related. For example, in the case of a student
who reports that his roommates just don’t seem to like
him, it may be that the roommates are extroverts who are
interpreting the student’s refusal to accompany them to
social events as unfriendliness, and behaving coolly to-
ward him in return. Or, an introvert who complains that
her roommates are nagging her to go places might be
housed with extroverts who are viewing her home-body
ways as problematic and believe that she just needs a
social nudge ··· or two. Extroverts often believe, mistak-
enly, that their introverted friends would be better off if
they got out more. Introverted advisees may benefit from
information that will allow them to explain their way of
being to associates, and from coaching on how to diplo-
matically fend off well-meaning extroverts who pressure
them to attend unappealing social events.
4.3. Assisting Advisees with Difficulties Related
to Academics & Major Area of Study
Background noise and certain types of music tend to im-
pair introverts’ ability to concentrate more than extro-
verts’ [55]. Thus, an introverted student who finds her-
self or himself sharing a dorm room with one or more
extroverted roommates may soon become embroiled in
conflicts over noise level and the general level of activity
in the living space. The extroverts may not understand,
and thus be unwilling to accommodate, the introvert’s
desire for peace and quiet, particularly when trying to
study. It would be ideal if all students could be quartered
with peers who share their preferences regarding stimu-
lation. Although that goal cannot always be met, some
colleges’ Residence Life staff does take pains to ensure
that students are matched with compatible roommates by
considering variables such as cleanliness, when they like
to go to sleep, noise level, visitation in the room and oth-
er things which may be useful in the felicitous assign-
ment of living quarters.
Although introverts tend to be good students, assum-
ing there are no intervening personal problems or learn-
ing disabilities, they may need to be reassured that their
desire for lengthy periods of quiet time during which
they can study and reflect is not only normal, but advan-
tageous to them academically.
Both introverted and shy students may have difficulty
approaching faculty, in and out of the classroom, and
may fail to seek clarification, assistance, etc., when they
need it. Advisors can reiterate that educators do want to
help, and perhaps provide students with a short teach-
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M. Condon, L. Ruth-Sahd / Open Journal of Nursing 3 (2013) 503-515 513
er approaching script they can commit to memory and
vary according to the circumstance.
Shy students experiencing academic difficulty should
be questioned about the amount of time (unrelated to
coursework) they spend online. Internet addiction is
more prevalent among shy students, who tend to be more
comfortable relating online than face-to-face and are
known to spend more time online than students who are
not shy [38].
4.4. Assisting Advisees Dissatisfied with Their
Major Program of Study
It is not uncommon for students to enroll in a selected
major, such as Nursing, only to realize it does not suit
them. Such realizations should be viewed by advisers as
important and commendable discoveries, and trigger a
search for the major in which the student has the best
chance of finding his or her sweet spot—described by
Little [13] as the ideal environment in which to study,
work, live and pursue core personal projects. Core per-
sonal projects are chosen endeavors that are just right for
a given person in that they are meaningful, manageable,
not unduly stressful, and supported by others. According
to Little, people who are operating in their sweet spot—
which, given its optimal nature will provide opportuni-
ties to pursue core personal projects—feel more alive
and energetic, earn more rewards and enjoy better health,
as the stress associated with straining to excel at a pursuit
to which one is not well-suited is known to take its toll
on body and mind.
Little [13] cautions that it can be difficult for introverts
to discover their sweet spot because they may well have
spent so much of their lives conforming to extroverted
norms that ignoring their authentic preferences has be-
come reflexive. Advisors can guide students in using the
following three processes (recommended by Little) to
identify their sweet spot: 1) Thinking back to what they
loved to do as a child and what they wanted to be when
they grew up, 2) Considering, if the specific childhood
aspiration seems untenable, the meaning underlying the
choice, e.g., divining what it was about being an explorer
that was so attractive, 3) Noting the kinds of work the
student gravitates to now, e.g., the types of assignments
that are enjoyable or the nature of employment that is or
was experienced as fulfilling, and 4) Analyzing the cir-
cumstances of those whom the student envies, because
we tend to envy those who have what we desire.
Advisors may also want to advise introverted students
who are considering a given career-focus or job offer
within nursing to consider the likely availability of re-
storative niches [13]. A restorative niche is a place or
circumstance that provides a degree of protection from
over-stimulation. Examples include quiet spaces to
which one might retire to take a break, having a private
office instead of a cubicle in a large space, and having
free time on weekends for resting and recharging. Intro-
verts should also consider whether a given area of nurs-
ing practice will allow them to spend time on activities
that suit them, such as reading and strategizing, writing
and researching. Academic advisors are not the only
sources of assistance for students who become disen-
chanted with their major field of study; academic advis-
ing center staffs are knowledgeable about all majors.
In summary, faculty advisors can assist students who
are having social or academic difficulties related to their
introversion or shyness by accepting their way of being
as normal, providing them with relevant information and
directing them to other resources as indicated.
Introversion and shyness are distinct, biologically and
environmentally-based personality characteristics that,
along with some forms of cultural socialization, can give
rise to markedly quiet and reticent behavior in students—
behavior that is not widely understood or endorsed in
American culture. Students may suffer when behaviors
arising from introversion and shyness are misinterpreted
by peers and faculty, causing social and academic diffi-
culties. Students who are introverted and/or shy are like-
ly to prefer teaching and learning modalities that do not
require them to speak in class, while their more outgoing
peers will prefer activities that involve talking and inter-
acting with others. Given that there will be nearly equal
numbers of introverted and extroverted students in most
classes, and that learning outcomes are better when stu-
dents have the opportunity to process new information in
their preferred way [12], nurse-faculty may wish to pro-
vide a balance of introvert-friendly and extrovert-friend-
ly classroom activities and assignments. While there is
evidence that some quiet students can improve their abil-
ity to speak publicly with practice and support, there is
also evidence that for others, speaking up is simply too
difficult and painful. Interviewing students who are not
speaking in class and allowing them, where indicated, to
choose alternate ways of meeting course requirements is
an option that allows professors to demonstrate both re-
spect and compassion for their students. Gaps in the
Nursing Education and the Adult Education literature
still exist. More research is needed about how to best
maintain a culture of civility and safety in the classroom
while meeting the learning needs of a diverse student
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