Monday, November 9, 2015

Teaching Millennials: Bridging the Gap

Examples not working?  Jokes gone flat?  Seinfeld references missed faster than you can say, “No soup for you?”  Don’t worry, it’s not just you.

College faculty all around the nation are struggling with teaching to the millennial generation.  With a population steeped in YouTube videos, Tweeting what they had for breakfast, and asking Siri what the weather’s like, it’s no wonder you are beginning to hear nothing but crickets after your best punch lines.   

Here are some things you should know about millennials in order to better connect with them.
  1. Millennials are used to being protected.  They’re used to their parents hovering over them or sweeping in to save the day.  Terms like “helicopter” or “lawnmowerparents” are now truer than ever.  Keep that in mind. 
  2.  Millennials are team-oriented.  Crowdsourcing is something they’ve grown up with, so group work and relying on a team is nothing new to them. 
  3. Millennials are achievement-oriented.  Keep in mind that this generation above all others has been exposed to standardized testing and education movement.  This provides them with an internalized value of results far above the process of learning itself.
  4. Millennials are pressured.  Due to this focus on achievement, they’ve been feeling the pressure to be the best for quite some time.
Not only is it important to consider these elements in order to understand your students and the generalizations about their generation, but it’s also important to reflect on how we can move beyond these generalizations to build a pedagogical approach that benefits our courses, our students, and ourselves.  Consider these tips for teaching today’s college student:
  1. Get to know your students.  It’s impossible to connect with students on any level until you gain an understanding of what sort of knowledge and experience they are already bringing to your classroom.  Start out with a formative assessment of some kind to allow students to share what they know, and what gaps they may have in understanding your class content. 
  2. Show your students ways to organize and apply knowledge.  Millennials are used to getting information at lightning speed, and usually in various different ways, so teaching how to process all of this material is a good place to start.  Incorporating different types of materials for teaching each concept can be helpful as well.
  3. Discuss the value of failure.  Because this generation is so focused on achievement, they often lose sight of the ways in which failure can work as a good learning tool.  Provide opportunities in your classroom that are low stakes, and focus on working on the process involved in learning a concept rather than the product.  These could be group activities, discussion posts, or hypothesis-driven activities.  Emphasizing the importance of the learning process is also a good way to establish intrinsic motivation. 
If you’re still wondering what to do about those Seinfeld references whipping over your students’ heads, well, let’s just say we know what your first homework assignment should be.

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