Monday, January 16, 2012

Millennials--What Next?

I have sat through several workshops--and read some of the main books, such as Jean Twenge's Generation Me--on Millennials.  These were enlightening and this post is by no means a criticism of them.  It is vital that we older profs realize that the students in our classes see the world quite differently from how we do.

They see technology differently; work ethic differently; their free time differently; relationships differently; church and spirituality differently; formality differently; disciplines and knowledge acquisition differently; sexuality differently; politics and social justice differently; the purpose of their education differently; the professors' roles differently.  Well, they may see some of these, if not all, differently.  And let me add that not all millennials are created equally.  My son is smack dab in the middle of the millennial generation--born in 1988--and some of these are true of him and some not at all.  

My point being that while knowing this social-psychological research is vital, we don't want to overreact to it.  Example:  An instructor in my college said, "What do I do about when they email me and it looks like a text message and I can't read it?"  Her assumption was that there was something wrong with her, not the student for communicating like that, and as if to expect them to write coherent sentences was expecting them to overcome a disability.  Oh, please.  My answer?  "Reply to the email and say you will only read emails in English."  The fact that they can email you and you answer them should be enough.

Harsh?  Well, let me say that I am famous for answering my email promptly, so I figure answering them and asking for coherence is better than ignoring them and/or trying to figure out what the heck they are getting at in a text message type email.

The irony is that we have accepted that a college education is about getting a job and yet we don't expect employment-appropriate skills from them.

The second problem is the assertion that we should know pop culture to relate to our millennial students.  Which pop culture is that?  I could spend my whole life exploring pop culture and still miss what they are interested in.  Anime?  Certain TV shows?  Music?  Video games?  Here I can depend on my son a bit, who plays some video game where electronic blood splatters on the screen.  When I have tried to incorporate pop culture, a lot of the students aren't familiar with it.  And I don't like Family Guy and South Park--I find them vicious and insulting.  Should I spend time watching those instead of reading an article that will help me teach my discipline better?

Beyond this tirade, I have to ask how much longer the research on millenials will be relevant.

First, the employment situation in this country should have clued everyone into the fact that you can't go to work wearing flipflops any more.  It's a highly competitive environment, and you better put your best foot forward if you want a decent job.

Second, eventually our students won't be millennials any more.  What will they be?  They will be the grandchildren of the baby boomers.  They will be children who may or may not have grown up with helicopter parents, who may have been raised by their grandparents, who may have known a much tougher upbringing economically and relationally due to the prevalence of single-parent homes.

Which brings me to a larger point, something I have always questioned about millennial research:  Is this true for white, middle class students, or everyone?  The patterns I see in my son and his friends is not what I see in my Latino students, my international students,  or those truly first generation rural white students. 

The value of Millennial research seems to be in terms of engagement and motivation as opposed to instruction and reaching outcomes.  Of course, we must engage them, but as the title above says, what next?  Do they learn differently (do their brains process differently) from older students?  I would argue that it is highly possible they do because of our overdependence on technologically.  Therefore, the next step--the what's next--is about how to teach students whose brains may have been retrained to learn a different way.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Course Redesign: Fundamentals of Speech

Last semester I participated, and to some extent helped to lead, an effort on our campus to redesign courses.  This was related to the Red Balloon project of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which is about reimagining undergraduate education.

Needless to say, reimagining undergraduate education, or redesigning it, either in part or in full, is an important, difficulty, and probably very needed endeavor.  It can get a little hopeless for your average college instructor/professor/lecturer to really tackle it, but each of us can look long and hard at what we do in the classroom, at whether it is really working, and whether there is a better way to do at least some of it.

We had a speaker come in last week to sort of summarize a lot of what we have been doing.  She was very good (won't write the name here, but it was well worth attending).  For myself, I have somewhat redesigned my traditional section of COMM 1110 (but kept the hybrid section intact for now) and led a group who is redesigning developmental English for our QEP (I am the QEP Committee Chair, a job that is quite consuming).  I do not teach development English right now, so the latter is less of an issue with me.  It is about the former I wish to blog here.

Let me start by saying that I have taught Fundamentals of Speech for 33 years.  That's scary.  I can do it in my sleep, and I wonder if to some extent I have been.  If I can do it in my sleep, I am probably putting my students to sleep (I get pretty good evaluations, but that doesn't mean I am happy with my performance as a teacher.  If those evaluations make you complacent, something is wrong.)  Two main strains of thought went into my course redesign.

First, I attended a workshop on metacognition at the annual SACS conference in Orlando in early December.  It was run by a wonderful woman from LSU, and right now I am afraid her name escapes me, but she is personally charming.  It was as if a light went off in my head.  I am redesigning the course to focus more on how to learn; obviously not totally, but I am doing some activities to go in that direction.  For instance, on Monday (my first class), I talked for about five minutes about how to read the textbook, even pulling out the old SQ3R model.  That may seem minor and even silly, but I don't think so.  I told students not to worry if they read out  loud to themselves sometimes, and to not use a highlighter; notes are better.  I even told a story on myself about how when I was taking the GRE last week the monitor came in and told me I was reading the questions and people could hear me.  I was embarrassed, but I have to do that sometimes.  I am an adult and I can learn any way I want to!  And I told my students they were adults and could learn any way they wanted to, also.

 Then, on Wednesday I had the students do a reflection on how they learned something in their lives.  The value of this is that it was also a brainstorm for their first speech, a personal experience speech; I told them they could perhaps find something relevant for their speech in that reflection. 

The second strain is reflection.  The book we read last semester, Blumberg's Developing Learner-Centered Teaching, is basically a reflection guide.  I am a BIG believer in reflection and reflective practice.  Not because I think all the answers are naturally within us, but because reflection causes us to search through what we have learned but have forgotten.  The writing of it brings the unformed ideas and memories to a different level of the brain and causes synapses to grow; therefore we are learning and we reflect because learning is the creation of structural changes in the brain. 

What I am doing that's so different in the class is irrelevant.  Anyway, I did not really change the basic assignments or the outcomes (I don't have a lot of control over those, anyway, and for the most part that aspect of the course is working well).  What I am doing different is the everyday experience of the class. 

I would really like to get more traffic to this website, and more comments.  I don't even get spam!  Yet I think I've written some helpful things here.

Update on doctoral pursuit: GRE helps

All my materials are in for the doctoral program.  I tried to do this five years ago, had medical problems and panic attacks, and chickened out, and have beat myself up over it for years.  A colleague has been very encouraging about trying this executive style program at UGA. 
I'm going to go for it, if I am accepted.  All my materials are in and I took the GRE again.  I am very proud of the fact that I scored in the 99 percentile in writing, 97 in verbal reasoning, and 53 in math.  Now the first two make sense since I have two M.A. degrees in verbal-oriented subjects, but the 53 in math is pretty cool since I haven't had a math class since 1971.  Yes, that's right, 40 years ago.  And the first time I took the GRE in 2004 I was in the 22 percentile!

The secret:  Khan Academy videos.  Really.  They are awesome.  Second, a booklet on the web for studying the math needed for the GRE.  Here:

Third, a colleague gave me an introductory algebra book, which I used for backup.  If someone my age can learn math on her own (and I really was learning new concepts, not just remembering the old stuff), there is hope.  At least I know I'm not about to get dementia, although I may be demented to start doctoral work at this age.