29 March 2009

Changing Students

When I was awarded tenure this year, the VP of the College gave me two books, one of which is titled Teaching Today's College Students. I just finished the book and I have two first-blush impressions: 1) the book had interesting information but it could have been said in one chapter rather than one book; and 2) this generation of students is being awarded more consideration than past generations. This book definitely made me think.

Most of what I read was redundant, not only within the text which had a tendency to repeat the same information, but also within my own experience both as a teacher and as an "almost member" of the generation. Apparently my generation runs from those born from 1965-1981 and Millenials were born after 1981; I was born in 80 and have had access to computer technology from a young age so I'm close to being a Millenial. The main differences between me and Millenials seem to be the following: Millenials achieved young adulthood in a time of financial success and as such were more easily provided what they wanted. They also were raised in a different fashion, specifically in a more buddy type approach where negotiation was more common than authoritative parenting. Finally, they are more socialized than their predecessors due to technology increasing the ease of communication. These differences mean my "traditional" students have a larger sense of entitlement than I did, they believe that almost everything, including class rules and grades, can be negotiated, and they are more comfortable with collaborative rather than individual learning.

The other characteristics of millenials, such as the ability to multi-task, comfort with technology, and non-linear thinking, feel rather familiar to me. The conundrum I see is that previous generations were expected to adapt to new situations and assimilate; whereas today, we are placing the pressure to adapt on the 'authorities'. New methods of instruction and new ways of interacting with students are almost requirements for today's teacher. Our students prefer to communicate through email, so instructors better adapt. Our students want to be praised and receive immediate feedback, so instructors better find a way to do so. Our students want choices about what they learn and how they learn it, so instructors need to modify their courses. Our students are visual learners uncomfortable or unpracticed with texts, so we need to incorporate more images.

I'm not saying that all of this is necessarily wrong, but where does student accountability come in? I can understand that today's student is more visual; afterall, we live in a culture inundated by images in almost every waking moment. And yes, the internet, television, instant messenging, these advances in technology have shortened the attention span of the average person by providing quick access to short snippets of information.

But the contemporary tendency for communicating tiny amounts of information visually does not preclude or diminish the importance of learning how to read a text that includes a large quantity of complex material. Isn't this abililty something we, as instructors, should be teaching our students how to do (especially since they don't seem to be able to do it)? Teaching our students something new is our job afterall, not just helping them become more proficient at what they already know.

I think we need to meet students where they are, but push them - and push them hard - to be able to do more. Learning can be fun, but it's not a requirement. Don't we all have to learn how to cope with and benefit from situations we don't consider fun?

Or has education really fallen into the fast-and-easy mode of consumer culture?


  1. Wow- this post could not have come at a more appropriate time for me. I just finished reading "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman. He addresses many of those same concerns when he writes about how television/entertainment-based communication affects education. Although it's not the final word on the matter, the conclusion he comes to is that education is being changed to comply with television/entertainment instead of the other way around, and that- for better or for worse- changes education more than television. I'll write more about the book on my own blog soon. After all, I wouldn't want there to be a shortage of conveniently packaged information. ;-)

  2. How interesting...looks like I squeezed my way into your generation...lol.

  3. I haven't read that book in ages Brandon. But I may have to pick it up again now. Did you read it for a KCC class?

  4. A buddy of mine was reading it for a class and I borrowed it from him.


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