Shyness and the University – Joe Moran, Professor of English and Cultural History at LJMU

In the recent Research and Practice in HE Seminar Joe Moran shared insights gained from personal reflections, as well as research, into shyness.  In a thought-provoking seminar with rich references to a variety of contemporary sources, Joe asked us to consider for a while the impact of shyness on academic practice for both staff and students.  By tracing changing cultural norms of the representation of shyness and related concepts of introversion and extroversion, he challenged us to think about the acceptability, or not, of such personal attributes in an age of what Susan Cain calls ‘the extrovert ideal’ (Quiet, 2012, p.17).  Shyness should be accepted as part of a jigsaw of human behaviour but, it is acknowledged that, at its extremes, it can cause real problems for staff and students trying to function in a modern world.  Related to this ideas and theories around the increasing ‘pathologising’ of social anxiety were considered.    Why are increasing numbers of young people being diagnosed with social anxiety disorders? How do our working and learning environments, following an increasing trend for large open plan spaces, aid or impede shy students, and those experiencing crippling anxiety in social situations?

Virtual learning environments and ever more opportunities for engagement at a distance may aid the shy student, and members of staff, but do their ubiquity serve to impoverish face to face contact?

Much consideration was given during Joe’s presentation and in the discussions that followed to how learning spaces might be configured to offer spaces for quiet, individual working: offering a retreat from what Joe described as an increasingly noisy world.  However, the university needs also to offer opportunities for students to interact with one another: group work and collaborative activity are important.  Notwithstanding the many other obligations that increasing numbers of students have in addition to their studies,  Joe observed that there is an apparent reluctance by many students to stay on campus, beyond what’s seemingly required.  Drawing on Oldenburg’s work (The Great Good Place 1999) how might our buildings encourage a sense of belonging and invite students to stay a while longer and engage more deeply with the life of the University?  Might traditional style refectories and common rooms with inexpensive food and plentiful tea and coffee making facilities, and familiar faces be part of an answer?



For details of other previous seminars please go to the RaP Seminar page


The next Research and Practice in HE Seminar is coming up on Wednesday, 8th Feb and will be led by Professor Ruth Woodfield, University of St Andrews, on a theme of disciplinary differences in retention and attainment.