Some topics seem to draw people in and one that keeps resurfacing is "who are today's students?" There doesn't seem to be a shortage of articles, books, blogs, advice... lots of ways to help us adjust to the students in our classrooms. In some respects, I am reluctant to join the chorus that could be stereotyping students and suggesting that the Millennials* (people born between 1982 and 2004 or thereabouts) are so perplexing that it takes experts' advice to be effective with the kids these days. I am, however, a firm believer in the importance of knowing your audience and that does take going beyond assessing their prior knowledge. What makes Millennials tick and how can we better reach them in our classes? A wealth of information that describes this generation exists, but there is far less published on how their characteristics impact teaching and learning processes.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to dig deeper into the literature on Millennials because last semester Crystal Ramsay and I provided two departmental seminars on Millennials students. In those seminars we addressed instructional concerns identified by the faculty that included the following: texting/cell phones in class; class attendance issues; feelings of entitlement (deserve a trophy for showing up); not taking responsibilities for their actions and blaming others; not taking charge of their education; and pretending that they get A's in all of their classes since I'm the only one handing out lower grades. Do any sound familiar to you?
On January 19th, we revisited this topic by offering a session for all of Penn State faculty called Teaching Millennials: Engaging Our Students with Instructional Strategies. In this session, we began with a quick reflection on generational markers and characteristics - we all bring ourselves into a teaching and learning situation and our characteristics influence how we respond. You might like taking the "How Millennial are You?" quiz at the Pew Research Center site.
While at the Pew site, try and spend some time on their "Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next" that provides a deeper look at their behaviors, values, and opinions. Another useful resource on the influences that impact Millennials can be found in "The Information-Age Mindset: Changes in Students and Implications for Higher Education."
A quick read that suggests initial findings as to what do with Millennials in your classrooms is called, "Why Don't My Students Think I'm Groovy?: The New R's for Engaging Millennial Learners" while another perspective suggests that Millennials need variety in our classrooms. For some specific instructional issues, you might like to look at a study that addresses "does their low tolerance for boredom make the lecture method less effective?" (Roehling, P.V, et. al. (2011). Engaging the millennial generation in class discussions. College Teaching, 59 (1), 1-6.) as well as another study that looks at how psychological traits influence their learning (Stewart, K.D. & Berhardt, K.D. (2010). Comparing millennials to pre-1987 students and with one another. North American Journal of Psychology, 12 (3), 579-602). There is so much to sort through and decide if it is relevant to you and how you teach and learn with Millennials. Please join in and share with us. I'm finding this is a conversation that gets better as we go along.