Author: itl

Workspaces For Introverts

A wise man once said: “only a Sith deals in absolutes”*. Hold onto this thought while I write about something else.

Susan Cain’s (2012) well researched book Quiet focuses on the good side of introversion that is often overlooked in North American culture. Her book dedicates a chapter on work spaces in relation to introverts. From this chapter, the take home message is this: despite the popularity of the “New Groupthink”, certain tasks and masteries are meant to be completed and achieved alone.

The New Groupthink is a term coined by Cain that refers to a phenomenon where people focus (obsess) over teamwork and socialization in work environments. Companies are decreasing personal work spaces in favour of facilitating a social atmosphere where workers can engage in group activities such as group brainstorming sessions. Schools are pushing for cooperative and small group learning, where they promote leadership and collaborative skills (Cain, 2012).

Cain isn’t saying these approaches to work and education are wrong, but rather she’s asserting that we need them in moderation. Her view is supported by Obi-wan’s quote from above: We must not design our workplaces and education solely based on extrovert traits. To grossly simplify Cain’s argument on why we shouldn’t, it’s because specific masteries relating to fields such as music and math, productivity tasks that require high amount of concentration, and even creative tasks where new ideas and solutions are needed all require significant amount of solitary time, not multiple meetings or group sessions (and perhaps not every kid in the class wants to grow up to be a charming, charismatic leader).

Ok… so am I suggesting we get rid of partners and group activities in classrooms and split every desk to be themselves? No, we don’t deal with absolutes. We should definitely have a mix of both. I personally think maybe in a 75 minute lecture in a high school class, we could spend 30 minutes on the lecture itself. Then, give 20 minutes for each students to digest the material. Then spend the last 15 minutes on a group activity. Perhaps the students can disperse into small groups or go study individually at some work stations, then have some sort of seminar in the classroom. It’s been awhile since I’ve been to high schools, but I’d think (hopefully) some of these instructional design are already taking place. Besides class time, what else can we improve?

Lunch and break times. A lot of student spaces I’ve seen in various high schools mostly had spaces where it was clearly designed for group work. Why not have classrooms or lounges where there are spaces for individuals specifically? The library shouldn’t be the only place where students can go to have some solitary time. And speaking of libraries, I think there also should always be wide open tables designed for collaborative work, while there should also be small desks in other areas used for individual work.

Perhaps all of these are already implemented in modern high-schools and colleges (I know a lot of medium to large scale universities can already support all of this). But the lesson should never be forgotten – to push for individualized education, we must design work environments that cater to our individualized differences. What would be some best classroom design practices that caters to both introverts and extroverts? If this lab ever gets funding, we’ll know.


Cain, S. (2012). When collaboration kills creativity. Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown.

*The quote is from the movie Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith


Check out the book in this post!


Feedback Is Pleasurable: Homework vs. Games

In his book The Compass of Pleasure, the American neuroscience professor David Linden (2011) argues that information about our own future can be pleasurable. Pleasurable in this context refers to activating the pleasure/reward circuitry in the brain – much like how food, water, gambling, and sex would.

Meanwhile (and seemingly unrelated), Jane McGonigal’s book, Reality is Broken (2011) defines games (digital, sports and the like) as having four fundamental traits: goals, rules, feedback systems, and voluntary participation. The feedback system provides information to the players of a game how close they are to the game’s goal (getting a high score, defeating the dragon, etc). Effectively, the feedback system “serves as a promise to the players that the goal is definitely achievable, and it provides motivation to keep playing” (McGonigal, 2011).

So let’s make some connections here. Feedback systems in a game provide us with information, mostly on how we are performing in the game… which really is information that directly relates to how successful we will be in a game. Even when we play our childhood game of “Hot and Cold”, the feedback the player is getting is information about our success in the near future. A player hearing a lot of “cold” means his future is not looking so good, while a lot of “hot” means he’s close to victory. A booing crowd in Guitar Hero means your avatar’s future is getting kicked off stage, while the blinking ghosts in Pac-Man means that perhaps death is imminent.

With the idea from The Compass of Pleasure, we can argue that these feedbacks are pleasurable – and this makes sense as McGonigal claims that these feedbacks are what motivates the players to play these games (and we should all know that pleasurable things such as money, sex, and food are all strong sources of motivation). This string of reasoning aligns with why games are so fun to play.

What about homework? Especially the “traditional” type of homework? A prime example would be a set of physics problems in a textbook a student has to chug through. There may be 10 questions or so that he needs to go through, but guess what: there is zero feedback available to him while doing his questions. His only feedback will probably be the score he gets from his teacher about a week later after its due – but this information wouldn’t even be about the future anymore.

There are plenty of online modules nowadays that provide instant feedback, along with a flood of learning apps that try to gamify (and hence have some sort of a feedback system) the whole process of doing homework/studying. If we go with our little theory of how feedback can be pleasurable, we could guess that this type of homework activity is much more enjoyable then the physics homework scenario above.

It would be fascinating if there are specific research conducted to address this issue. If this lab ever gets funding, we’ll know. We’ll study this and tell you whether real-time feedback during studying and doing homework will make the whole experience more enjoyable.


Linden, D. J. (2011). Virtuous Pleasures (and a Little Pain). The compass of pleasure: How our brains make fatty foods, orgasm, exercise, marijuana, generosity, vodka, learning, and gambling feel so good [e-book version]. New York: Viking.

McGonigal, J. (2011). What Exactly Is a Game? Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world [e-book version]. New York: Penguin Press.


Check out the books in this post!

The Compass of PleasureReality is Broken

Bad Reps with Phones – Notetaking

You have a meeting. But really, its a meeting where you just need to be there; you’re not the VIP of this meeting. So you get into the conference room, settle down on a chair at the far end of the table, and think about why Shirley hasn’t texted you back.

Then, during the meeting you suddenly have to write something down! But wait, you have no paper, no pen – you didn’t bring anything… but your phone. You take out your smartphone and open up a note-taking app and start typing with your two thumbs.

Then you feel this uneasiness, as if some of the people are looking at you strangely. You feel like you’re texting in a classroom during an exam. Why is this happening to you?

We can casually speculate why this might be. Behaviorists and social psychologists could argue that this is a form of social conditioning. Everyone who’s been to school knows that fiddling around with your phone during class would lead to trouble – most often regardless of what you were doing with your phone. Our innocent smartphones are an aversive stimulus in a productive environment like offices and schools.

Laptops are a totally different story. Have a laptop open during lectures or in meetings, and it doesn’t seem too bad. You can even get away with a tablet computer.

So the real question is… how big is big enough? if a 9.7 inch iPad is big enough to pass, is the 7 inch Nexus 7 tablet big enough? Is the Samsung Galaxy Note big enough to seem legitimate in office/classroom environments?

If this lab ever gets funding, we’ll know. We’ll study this and tell you exactly how big your device should be to make meetings and class time not awkward.