Many of my school teacher friends are enjoying their summer break in Dewey or just hanging around Bear. But, in the back of their mind, they are mentally, physically, and emotionally preparing themselves for the impending school year. As an adjunct professor, I struggle with finding ways to make my curriculum more relevant to a new generation of students aged 20-22. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to teach students between the ages of 5-16. One issue that teachers and the state as a whole must realize is that students today are not just different in terms of their likes, dislikes, sources of entertainment, and exposure to stimuli. Many researchers believe that children’s physical make-up is fundamentally different from adults.
Dr. Bruce Berry of the Baylor College of Medicine says, “Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures.“ Marc Prensky in On The Horizon has said, “It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous (digital age) environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. These differences go far further and deeper than most educators suspect or realize…It is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed – and are different from ours – as a result of how they grew up. But whether or not this is literally true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed. I will get to how they have changed in a minute.”
Prensky separates learners into two categories – Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. The Digital Native is a person who has lived their entire life with the internet as the primary source of information. This would include Milennials and Generation Z. According to Prensky, a Digital Immigrant is someone was not born into the digital world but has adopted many of the aspects of new technology. We can identify the difference between the two because, while the Immigrant has learned to adapt to this new digital age, they always retain some foothold to the past; they were socialized differently than younger people and these new experiences go into a different part of the brain.
Do you remember Encyclopedia Britannica? Well, our kids do not. Wikipedia is the encyclopedia to them and the more we try to constrain our students from using this as a source for term papers and assignments, the more we are fooling ourselves as educators. Do you remember when email was the primary nonverbal medium for communicating to students (at least for professors)? That is not the case anymore. Some studies have shown that as low as 17% of teenagers check email on their computers once a week. I communicate with students through Facebook and Twitter. Not just because it is more effective but because that is where the trend is and where businesses are heading.
We need to prepare these students for the world tomorrow, not yesterday. A concern for many of the educators that I know, especially in the public education system, is that they have a hard time “relating” to students the way they did 5, 10, and 20 years ago. The use of the technologies that Natives use is a great way to begin having that conversation. That is exactly what education needs to become – a two-way conversation, not a lecture.
If you find out what is important to your students and you are able to mold your rubrics with their issues, teaching becomes much easier and more enjoyable; however, it is certainly a little more uncomfortable initially and much harder work (but, hey, we are teachers, right?). As educators, there are several ways that you can begin to speak more like a Native than an Immigrant (obviously, these suggestions are age and subject dependent):
- Set up a separate Facebook page for your class (for example, mine was called “BUAD 475” at the University). Post homework and assignments there.
- During your first day of class, ask your students what their favorite website is. Research these sites (within reason, of course) and try to integrate them into class material
- For homework, ask the students to bring in the URL of a website that corresponds to the previous class lesson
- Make students teach class lessons to someone else in cyberspace and print out the online exchange. This is a way to ensure students who do not speak up in class are learning the material well enough to teach it
- Make students work in groups and communicate extra credit and fun assignments through text messaging. Make the group leader (i.e. the cell phone holder) responsible for disseminating the assignment and delegating authority to the other students. Change this up frequently so that everyone can lead and delegate, which are two of the most important business skills (and which are skills that employers have told colleges that students are notoriously poor)
Feel free to email me for any other ideas that I have used successfully (or failed miserably). As educators, we need to stick together. It’s a different ballgame out there.