How can the new generation of students descending upon us, or dare I say invading us in 2010 be described? They learn by memorizing, mechanically apply formulas and want an immediate answer to their questions without trying to find the answers on their own. Their lives are so hectic, they have trouble finding the time to prepare for class, practice what they’ve learned or simply to reflect. Teachers today have to contend with classes that are so heterogeneous, they are hard pressed to take into account all the students’ different levels of preparation, learning styles and motivation. How can we leverage the characteristics and strengths of this new line of students that are often referred to as digital natives or digital immigrants?
1.1 A changing student profile
This generation is often called individualistic. It is used to comfort and places a premium on quality. We also know that the 18 to 30 year-olds will have to be highly qualified and will be in demand in the labour market. It’s up to us to educate them.
Young people today are very comfortable with technology. They are referred to as the N (Net) generation or D (digital) generation. With easy access to information, they are quick to question the information we give them, they place less value on rules but have a keen global conscience because they’re “connected.” For them, the world is a vast playing field and instability, a way of life. Often growing up without siblings and with parents who are absent, children don’t easily find role models with whom they can identify. Women now dominate many traditionally male fields.
However, young people have a developed social conscience and are worried about the future: their concerns include environmental threats, globalization, market instability as well as aging of the population, which will leave fewer citizens to contribute to public services. Paradoxically, they no longer have faith in politics or politicians.
1.2 What motivates them?
So what motivates them, what causes them to act? A closer look shows that compared to their predecessors, they accept change, strong sensations and risk more easily. They therefore look for variety at school and at work. They like being in an environment where they can innovate and fend for themselves. Theirs is a culture of hypertext, multitasking and especially zapping (they spend on average four hours a day in front of a screen), which creates in them a spirit of adaptability. However, this also comes with such collateral effects as concentration problems, desire for a quick fix and de-motivation.
According to a document by Théo Bondolfi, students want a digital environment characterized by individual tutorials, self-learning, file sharing, information search and verification. They like to get their classes online but learn on paper. In class, they value immediate, honest feedback. They need encouragement to achieve their long-term goals, want to be rewarded for work well done but the expectations must be clear and the goals measurable. For them, eculture* is concerned with how to handle emails, share information on the Web, manage remote learning and lead a virtual community.
1.3 Winning behaviour for this generation?
Of course teachers have little say on learning styles, intellectual strengths and weaknesses, ethnic origin or their students’ family problems. They must also contend with program requirements, evaluation and especially, time constraints. Under these conditions, how can we set expectations for students and keep them motivated? The first step involves understanding our students and finding and leveraging their strong suits. Then we have to meet their principal needs without losing sight of who we are. In the end, regardless of the generation – X, Y or C- a human being is a human being. So how are you going to incorporate the eculture into your teaching?
*Eculture: the intellectual and collective behaviours and practices of a digital ecosystem. Eculture is a trans-disciplinary field straddling social and technical sciences.