Monday, September 26, 2011

Social fears in learning situations: a survey of students at the University of the West of England

In February 2009 Phil Topham reported on Feeling stupid: A survey of university students’ experience of social anxiety in learning situations. A sample of 300 students were asked which of nine learning experiences caused them anxiety, embarrassment or inhibition: never, occasionally, or frequently. Those experiences were:

A. Presentations
B. Seminars
C. Group project work
D. Work experience/placement
E. Practical sessions
F. Talking to staff
G. Lectures
H. Using shared IT facilities
I. Using the library

Main results are shown below in three bar charts. Click on them to see larger, clearer versions.


Most students never experienced anxiety about using the library (57%) or shared IT facilities (54% ). Also, about 41% never experienced anxiety about lectures.


Over half of the students occasionally experienced anxiety about talking to staff, and in practical sessions or group project work. 


Most students frequently experienced anxiety about presentations (83%). About half as many (42%) were anxious about seminars. Only about 8% frequently experienced anxiety about using the library or shared IT facilities. 


How did they manage anxiety from these learning experiences? Not very effectively, as shown above. Many adapted safety behaviors (75%) or coping strategies (65%). About the same amount tried avoidance (37%) as the obvious of prepare/practice (35%). Almost a third tied to minimize attention to them by location (34%) or behavior (28%) - while 33% tried to completely avoid the event. 


As shown above, most sought help for anxiety from friends (80%) or family (52%), while less than 20% sought help from tutors or lecturers (14%), counseling service (13%) or their general practice physician (13%).

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