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Teaching millenials?

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by hrodbert696, Nov 26, 2012.

  1. hrodbert696

    hrodbert696 Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    I figured I'd throw this out to the TB community, since there's a range of ages of members and I know a number of us are in academia both on the faculty and student side (and anyone who isn't is welcome to chime in too).

    Recently, a colleague made a comment about college students now, to the effect that "They're all millenials, raised on youtube and twitter, and you can't teach them the way you used to because they don't have the attention span, don't respond to it."

    Now this bothered me, because even though I'm not all THAT old (41), my teaching is fairly traditional, lecture and discussion etc. So I was wondering if I need to totally reinvent my teaching style to keep up with the times.

    But then I started wondering; is it the professor's job to give the students material that is easy for them to work with and familiar in format? Or isn't it, rather, the opposite - to give them difficult material, that's complex and challenging and unfamiliar, and force them to stretch themselves to deal with it?

    What would the football coach say if someone said to him, today's kids aren't like yesterday's kids that ran around outside their whole lives, they grew up playing video games on the couch, you can't make them run the tough drills that you did back in the day? Wouldn't he say that if they want to play varsity and win, they'd better learn to run the tough drills or get off his team?

    Maybe I'm just a crotchedy old fart, but hearing these comments makes me think it's my sacred DUTY to give 45-minute lectures that are as dense and boring as possible. Sort out who can stick with it and who isn't up to snuff.

  2. Tituscrow

    Tituscrow Banned

    Feb 14, 2011
    NW England
    As a secondary school (11-18) physics teacher with 20 years experience, I have plenty to say on this subject, sir.

    However, I wouldn't really know where to start, so I'll sit back and see how this pans out.

    Good thread.
  3. I don't think it's a question of making materials easy or about students not having the right attention span, as it should always be about trying to be as engaging as possible.

    To engage people, you need to have a certain charisma and passion for what you do and teach while trying to make people understand something, not just retain facts.

    While at college level, students should be able to breakdown and digest the information given to them. They should have the maturity to study properly on their own, it certainly makes a big difference if the professor is enthusiastic about the material. You need a balance.

    I'm not a teacher or professor, but I have had a great deal of them in the past. There have even been a few dull ones whose lectures would put you to sleep, you just needed to pick up the slack and do a bit more work on your own. I'll also say that it isn't even just college students where the enthusiasm and charism is important, when presenting seminars or at conferences infront of senior academics requires the same bits and bobs to jazz up the talk (heck, nearly any presentation really). I've seen senior academics losing interest just as much as I have students when people have been giving dull presentations (even when it is other senior academics giving such presentations).

    Teaching and presenting information are valuable skillsets. Sadly, I know a few who seem to forget this and put more of the blame on the audience than themselves. I've had the luck of teaching (generally in an informal manner) a broad range of ages, from pre-school and primary school through high school and university and a broad range of audiences, from the general public to very specific research meetings.
  4. MakiSupaStar

    MakiSupaStar The Lowdown Diggler

    Apr 12, 2006
    Huntington Beach, CA
    I'll join Titus at the bar for some suds.
  5. Tituscrow

    Tituscrow Banned

    Feb 14, 2011
    NW England
    First one is on me, brother :)
  6. Simo98


    Jun 18, 2009
    QLD, Australia
    I don't think this is all that accurate. People have always learned in different ways, I think it is more the case of people who would not normally pursue an intellectual or academic career doing so because these days everybody is told they need to go to university or college, so people studying at university are taken from a broader spectrum of people rather than just those who are traditionally suited to it.

    There likely is a considerable difference in the way people process and absorb information these days due to the wide spread use of computers and the internet, but I don't think it means that all (or even most) people cannot learn from traditional lectures and note-taking.

    There is no such thing as a bad student, only a bad teacher. Obviously you have to teach the student whatever you are supposed to be teaching them, but I believe that so long as the student is willing (and generally, paying), it is the teacher who must adapt.

    Coaching football and teaching in academia are two very different things in my opinion, but even in the case of a football coach, I don't think it is a very good attitude either. To say like it or lump it, your going to work with my way of doing things and if you don't then you're not good enough is hardly productive. He is the coach, supposedly the one with the experience and expertise, he should be able to take any student with a will to learn and make his coaching work for them.

    I work for a kitesurfing school, we teach students of all shapes and sizes, private one on one instruction. If our general teaching style doesn't work for the customer, we change and approach it differently, and if it doesn't work we'll change it again, and again. There are a million and one ways to approach any problem, and some people just need one of the more obscure ones. Any student can be taught, some are more challenging that others, but we've never had a student we can't teach.

    Most people don't have a lot of confidence in themselves, and if they don't feel they are getting somewhere and doing alright with learning a new thing, they'll just get down on themselves and give up. The tough love approach doesn't work for these people, it only works for people with a lot of ambition and drive, or for people who are pressured into doing what they are doing and manage to not crack. If a student gets disheartened and gives up on learning what I'm teaching, I'd consider that a failure on my part.

    The tough, adapt or fail method is valid or necessary in some cases where those learning are going to have to deal with a lot of pressure when they apply the skills they're learning, maybe in the military, captaining a ship, or a chef for instance. However I think there are still other ways of teaching people to their strengths and working on the weaknesses as you go along, and there are better ways to illustrate how they'll need to work in a high pressure environment and testing if they'll deal with it that don't involve pushing them to their breaking point or snapping them into feeling like a failure.
  7. BBox Bass

    BBox Bass Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2011
    NW Pennsylvania
    OP, I'm your age and I too use mostly traditional methods, though I put up PowerPoint outlines every day and show videos on Youtube occasionally.

    Where I work, the educrats (many of whom have not been in a classroom for 20 years, if at all) continually lecture us about how we need to take advantage of exciting new technologies to facilitate student learning. They particularly like sending us emails full of links to blogs maintained by other educrats where we can find helpful advice about how using Twitter can get students more involved in learning.

    Strip off the rhetoric and the buzzwords, and the underlying message is this: Regardless of their ability or motivation, we need to keep our customers happy so they will stick around and pay tuition. Retention at any cost has been the trend in higher education for some time now, and it's disturbing.

    I believe that the students who want to learn will get something out of their classes, and they're the ones I want to be working with. On the other hand, I see plenty of students who we will never get through to, and I think it's sad that American society has drilled it into their heads that if they are losers if they don't go to college. I could write pages and pages about this, but I'll stop here.
  8. All I'll say is:

    Material != teaching method/style
  9. pbasswil


    Feb 17, 2008
    This strikes me as a radical questioning of your entire role as a teacher!

    Part of you is kind of angry at the students for being soft, right?
    So, do you carrot 'em or stick 'em?? :^)

    You're obviously a studious person with considerable experience focussing in on your area(s) of specialization.
    But surely we all have some common experience of the crazy demands modern life puts on our attention. It's only going to get worse for upcoming generations, right?

    I don't know, teachers can always choose to identify with the traditional work values, harden up, and (as you say) sort the wheat from the chaff.

    I personally wouldn't relish that taskmaster role. I'd favor an approach where the teacher focusses on two things:
    a) the inherent value of the material -- continually demonstrating his/her enthusiasm for it.
    b) connecting with as many of the students as are "connectable-with".

    For some students, the teacher's genuine enthusiasm is going to be enough to engage them.
    For another segment, the teacher's genuine personal interest in their learning is going to draw them in.

    But teachers are human, and have human limits. Beyond those two efforts, there's not a lot you can do to pull in the kids that simply don't have the attention or will available to study.

    I don't know; my inclination is to think that it doesn't help anyone to simply get mad at the students for not having the required attention. We don't know what goes on in their lives, and what kinds of deficits (social _or_ genetic) they have to grapple with.

    I think it's great that you've posed such an important question, btw.
  10. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    Engaging teaching will always is be engaging, to any crowd of people.

    This generation may approach and see the world slightly differently than those 50 years ago, but I'm 26 and even when I was a kid people were saying the same thing- "The nintendo generation has no attention span beyond the length of a commercial, can't read, etc". If anything, I'm sure it's a bit worse today, and yet we are still producing a generation of students and adults who can read, write and produce good work, even if they are probably not as well read in the classics and own a smaller print library than generations before.

    No. This is wildly inaccurate- there are bad students. Plenty of them. This statement comes from the generation of students with narcissistic parents who cannot tolerate seeing a child who is struggling, thus they blame the teacher. Same thing as the "everybody is a winner and deserves a trophy" crowd. This is bad for children, and for students.

    If you are teaching poorly or are not getting your message across clearly or in an interesting format, then sure. But more than likely, that is their choice, and you have to allow them to chose to flounder if that's what they want to do. It does not help them if you take their failure as your own and don't give them the opportunity to learn from it.

    Unless, of course, you are actually an awful teacher. But truly awful is not nearly as common as people would suggest.
  11. colcifer

    colcifer Esteemed Nitpicker Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    A Galaxy Far, Far Away
    IMO, the teacher's job is to do whatever gets the best results.
  12. "Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers."

    I agree with this, our competative natures need to be driving forces.

    Also, that the bad student/bad teacher thing isn't black and white. There are bad teachers and there are bad students.

    Depends on what results you are aiming for.

    Best results, in terms of grades.
    Best results, in terms of students gaining valuable knowledge and skill sets.

    Sadly, it seems to be more and more about getting better grades, which may not always equate to better real world ability.
  13. Angus

    Angus Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2000
    Palo Alto, CA
    I agree with this- I don't mean to sound like it is always the fault of the students, but teachers get so much flak for being "bad" that it warrants putting a little energy back into looking at the students rather than the teachers.
  14. colcifer

    colcifer Esteemed Nitpicker Supporting Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    A Galaxy Far, Far Away
    Definitely the latter. As someone who was in school relatively recently, I know exactly what you mean.
  15. While I have learned plenty from great teachers, I have learned just as much from poor ones. Learning from the poor ones took much more work and, in the end, resulted in more independent learning. In my industry (civil engineering), we work with lots of government regulations, codes and acts. You can't just change those to adapt to different people, the same way that sometimes you just can't adapt learning to different people. Yes, technology changes and increases our ability to do work, but you also have to still meet requirements.

    I guess what I am saying is that umm, I am not sure.

  16. There are plenty of studies that show that the best marks don't translate to being the best worker, or even learner. Thinking critically, communication and an ability to apply knowledge to real life are much more important than marks.

    When I was in my last year of school, we had a year long design project that was based on a real life situation. There were plenty of people that didn't get the best marks in the program, or even close to that, that did exceptionally well in that class. The guy that got the best marks in the program, struggled mightily with that class, because he couldn't see the connection between what he was learning in class and what happened in the world on the ground.

  17. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    I think what's changed is the capacity of young people to learn from bad teaching. At one time, they had no choice and were pretty much forced into it. That happens less and less now because it no longer works. Younger folks get a lot more good teaching now than they used to and this has reduced their ability to learn from weaker teachers.
  18. bass12

    bass12 And Grace, too Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I was a teaching assistant at a university for two years and have worked in elementary schools for six years. My experience in university was that, yes, there were students who wanted their hands held and whose attention spans were incredibly short. There were also kids who thought it was acceptable to cut and paste from Wikipedia on the online portion of their exam (without citing). However, I found that the majority of students (and certainly the "good" ones) adapted to the class. An engaging teacher who doesn't rely on "the latest technology" will, to me, always win out over a non-engaging teacher who constantly makes use of Powerpoint.
  19. Ziltoid

    Ziltoid I don't play bass SUSPENDED

    Apr 10, 2009
    I'm 20, finishing my ba. this year and I prefer traditional teaching.

    What's important for me is what the teacher is saying. I don't care if he's a horrible pedagogue, an impressive showman or if he uses visual aids as long as what he says is good.
  20. bass12

    bass12 And Grace, too Supporting Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    Montreal, Canada
    I don't agree with your last statement at all. I think teacher training is probably worse than it has ever been (at least in North America).