by Patrick Turner
Over the last 15 years, many colleges and universities have struggled with academically engaging students from the time they arrive on campus until the moment they graduate. The concerns surrounding student retention and graduation have become so critical that in 2009, President Obama created a 2020 College Completion Goal plan to increase Americans' graduation rate. As a result, colleges and universities (both two-year and four-year institutions) have focused their attention, efforts, and resources on increasing the rate of student retention, persistence, and graduation. Of course one of those focal points has been on creating ways to better engage students in the classroom, especially through the use of innovative teaching and learning practices.
In 2001, a new generation of students arrived on college campuses all over the U.S forever changing the manner in which higher education provides services, engages students, and develops classroom instruction. Millennials, those individuals born between 1982-2002, are the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. They are considered special, sheltered, confident, achievers, team-oriented, pressured and conventional. One of the greatest influences of this generation has been technology. Millennials are the only generation that has never lived without some type of technological gadget in their hands. These gadgets not only include the latest computers but also BlackBerrys, iPhones, iPads, PDAs, Xbox, Hover Boards, PlayStations, etc. On a daily basis, at least 6.5 hours a day, Millennials are engaged in some type of technological activity whether it's surfing the Internet; listening to music using a cellphone; or communicating with friends via Twitter, Facebook, instant messenger, Skype, Snapchat, FaceTime or WhatsApp. Yesterday, while eating at a restaurant, I observed a young couple dining out. What struck me as being odd was that for 5 minutes both of their heads were buried in their cell phones, texting while not speaking a word to each other. At the same time, a young woman sitting next to me at the bar was having a virtual FaceTime conversation with a friend on her phone. For Millennials technology is not considered an accessory to life but is viewed as a way of life.
Unfortunately, if you visit most colleges and universities in the U.S., their instructional methods and practices resemble that of a classroom from 100 years ago. Many instructors still cling to the "lecture" style of instruction maybe accompanied by the occasional PowerPoint presentation. Often they rely on the same teaching methods that were used during their schooling. This is particularly true for instructors from the Silent Generation or Baby Boomers who can be a little apprehensive, resistant, and sometimes fearful of embracing new teaching and learning technology. Are instructors using outdated teaching and learning methods to address a new population of students or using old solutions to address new challenges? Some consider the act of tailoring classroom instruction to students as a form of hand-holding or coddling, which is thought to send the wrong message. They take the "it worked for me" approach, which can be problematic when looking at how drastically different Millennials are from past generations. Additionally, a new generation of learners, Generation Z, is entering college and possesses some of the same characteristics of their predecessors. With the current state of the U.S. educational system, it's not a matter of if but when instruction strategies will adapt to a new generation of learners.
Ten key things to consider when developing teaching and learning for Millennials
- Provide ongoing and frequent feedback on performance
- Create a collaborative learning environment
- Incorporate experiential and real-life learning opportunities
- Becoming a facilitator of learning; Instead of acting as a sage on the stage, practice being a guide on the side
- Include modern media in the classroom and work assignments
- Include use of modern technology to increase learning
- Outline and enforce course guidelines and expectations early on
- Create a learning environment that encourages an open exchange of ideas
- Create a social atmosphere though the use of peer to peer, team, and group assignments
- Make your instruction student-and content-centered
Patrick Turner has more than 19 years' experience working in higher education specializing in the areas of budget management, fiscal accountability and academic services. Currently he serves as an instructor for Georgia State's First-Year Experience Program and as an academic specialist at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. Turner holds a bachelor's degree in public administration, a master's degree in human resource development and a doctorate in educational leadership — curriculum and instruction. His qualitative research explores the challenges and assistors (enablers) millennial freshman students encounter during their first year of college. Patrick serves as a proposal reviewer for the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition and the Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice.