This last semester of mine is offering a perfect case study in what classroom atmosphere and professor approach is more applicable to my learning style and my social anxieties.
In statistics, the professor says from the outset that he understands some students are uncomfortable being called on and asked to talk in the class. However, there are still well-defined expectations of participation to the extent of attentiveness. And the desks are situated in horizontal rows.
In philosophy (which is my major, mind you), from the outset, there’s an expectation that the professor could call on you at any moment to talk about the day’s reading and there is also a specific assignment for “leading a classroom discussion.” And the desks are situated in a square, so we’re all facing each other.
I know the arguments for the latter’s approach, but I’ve been at school for 20 years now and no manner of making me present in front of a class, talk to a class and be called on unexpectedly has a.) improved my skills at it or b.) lessened my social anxieties about it. And in my opinion, the latter’s approach impedes my learning ability because I’m 100% focused on the torment of the social anxieties rather than trying to focus on the material.
In statistics, without that expectation, I’m free to relax and therefore, think. And as such, I’ve talked way more in statistics than I have in both of my philosophy courses combined.
This isn’t to say the professors should cater to my particular learning style and my particular social anxieties. I’m only offering what is a perfect case study regarding what works for me.
What further compounds the issue in philosophy is that all seminar courses are integrated: undergraduate and graduate students. Not only do the latter know more by virtue of being immersed in the discipline longer, but they know each other more having taken numerous courses together. There’s an instant segregation that occurs in the classroom atmosphere, despite the professor’s assurances to not let the graduate students dominate the discussion.
Some may see this as an exciting opportunity to rise to the challenge of, well, challenging the better-equipped graduate students and in a more relaxed atmosphere, perhaps I would see it that way, but taken into account the previous information, it just makes me shrink even more.