Classroom management and generational differences

I was recently asked to give a short presentation on class management.  One thing our client mentioned:

“There also seems to be the situation in which students expect to be entertained and are more demanding of faculty.”

This got me thinking about another topic that we discuss a lot here in the Institute: generational differences.  We talk both about generational differences among senior and junior faculty, as well as generational differences between students and faculty.  Relating to the quote above, I wonder how much of this might come from generational differences?

I hear people refer to the current generation of undergraduates as the Net generation, millennials, or digital natives.  Many claims have been made of this generation, including their high proficiency with technology (Leung 2004), craving of interactivity (Prensky 2000) and ability to multi-task (Junco and Mastrodicasa 2007).  As someone who has taught large general education courses aimed at freshman with a focus on technology, I can safely say that proficiency with technology is a very questionable assumption.  Comfort with technology might be a better way to put it, as students certainly aren’t afraid of technology.  But that doesn’t mean they necessarily know more about how to use technology than folks in other generations (outside of IM’ing and social sites like Facebook).

That leaves the concepts of interactivity and multi-tasking.  Some researchers suggest multi-tasking is a human impossibility, that our mind truly can’t focus on two distinct tasks at once.  Rather, we simply toggle between tasks very quickly.  The interactivity piece might be part of the answer for our client that thinks faculty need to entertain the students.  I’m not so sure ‘entertain‘ is the right word…I would suggest engage.  With the proliferation of connectedness we all experience, in part to technology, we rarely find ourselves in monotonous, boring situations that we can’t find something to help occupy the time.  Long car ride or commute?  All you need is a cell phone to start texting or emailing friends and co-workers.  Stuck in a dry, dull presentation by a faculty member?  Connecting to your peers to discuss other topics is only a thumb-press away. 

I’m curious to see how some of our ideas will be received by the faculty asking about class management.  I don’t believe we have to entertain our students, but we certainly can try to do better engaging them.    

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