Monthly Archives: September 2010

Teaching “Millennial” Students: Why are faculty so interested?

The Schreyer Institute has hosted, co-hosted, and facilitated invited programs on teaching “Millennial Students,” every one of which has attacked relatively large numbers of faculty.  Yesterday, we hosted another seminar on this topic.  Our guest speaker, Dr. Kathy Schmidt, asked how many faculty found the characterizations useful or helpful for teaching.  Only a few faculty stood up for the generational classifications, others indicated that they were skeptical or unconvinced. 

We had a lively discussion about whether behavioral the differences that we see in today’s undergraduates represent any substantive cognitive differences in how students learn.  I see these generational categorizations as one of many classifications used by people to make complexities more manageable.  I have seen very little compelling evidence that today’s students learn in different ways than students of previous generations.  Some hints at interesting possibilities, but nothing solid yet.

Instead, I think that many students come to college with different expectations about their own and others behaviors.   And I think it is this misalignment that is prompting faculty to seek more information about their students.  It is probably fairly analogous to the way some faculty must have felt on campuses in during the Vietnam era. 

This divide may seem wider than generational transitions that have occurred since the 1960s and before the late 2000s.  I suspect a number of factors are likely at play today, including technology access (something all Millennial conversations invoke).  As many others have said before, students today are more connected to technology than ever before, whether that translates to technological literacy is a matter of debate. 

I am not convinces that new technology is the primary factor.  New technology is always with us.  Instead, I think it is the intersection of today’s new technology with other factors that merge to create the widening expanse between faculty and students.  One of these factors may be fiscal changes accumulating since the 1980s that have resulted in less frequent turnover of long term faculty.  Fewer institutions are hiring, and few are hiring many tenure-line faculty.  Add that to delayed retirements, and we have a big stretch of time between students and faculty. 

Pre-tenure faculty may be operating more like their senior colleagues than their students, even when they are wired and tech-savvy.  Not only are tenure-line appointments rarer, the tenure bar is higher.  So changing courses to be more appealing to Millennials might be riskier than ever.  Perhaps some senior faculty, e.g. those voting on tenure committees or observing junior colleagues, are still skeptical of technology enhanced teaching.  This would not be surprising given the number of active-learning skeptics, even after decades of research.  Tenure is too precious to risk alienating your reviewers. 

Likewise, the growing number of fixed-term faculty may also be more risk averse.  Neither pre-tenure or fixed-term faculty would want to be viewed as capitulating to or coddling their (Millennial) students. 

I’d like to see the Schreyer Institute develop some programs that move this conversation to the next level — beyond student characteristics.  Perhaps we could tackle the question about whether faculty should surrender or adapt to Millennial demands or expectations (though we would first have to discuss exactly what those demands are).  It is possible to stick to one’s learning objectives, while still adapting to the new student context. 

I would also like to explore what specific student expectations and behaviors are different, and help faculty work toward a better alignment.  Let’s move beyond classifications of students in the aggregate to the specifics about what exactly is different.  And next to what differences are problematic in the classroom.  We need to learn more about exactly what issues faculty see as needing resolution.

Who’s up for this exploration?

Teaching at a Community College–what you might want to know

Can I Teach at a Community College?
Another great article in The Chronicle by Rob Jenkins about teaching at community colleges.  His articles are extremely useful for folks on the job market.  So many job candidates are products of research intensive institutions that some come away from their degree programs with cover letters and interview expectations that can torpedo any chance of a position at a CC.  Jenkins is great at dispelling negative myths while accurately presenting life as a faculty member, whether tenure-line or adjunct, at a CC.

How will teaching change with more women & more non-majority students?

Undergraduate Diversity: More Minorities, More Women

This brief article in the Chronicle for Higher Ed has some interesting figures and tables.  When I see these kinds of demographic data, I always wonder how the teaching and recruiting will change in disciplines that continue to attract a narrow segment of the population.  How might some of the more traditional engineering disciplines change? Also, with the female population in academe growing, will we begin to see decreases in the tendency to dismiss as less scholarly those disciplines that are traditionally predominantly female?

Penn State’s Education Technology Ecosystem

I finally put the finishing touches on Penn State’s Education Technology Ecosystem report. This document will likely live on the “SITE Research” section of this website until we move the blog and research page over to departmental webspace later this year.  The first draft of the report (what I’m calling version .1) contains information on the usage of the Penn State Blog Platform and Wikispaces, our institutional Wiki install.  Check it out and let us know what you think.  Big thanks to co-authors Jimmy Xie and Cole Camplese for ideas and assistance with the analysis.  Also thanks to Brad and Hubing for the data dumps.  This project would not have been possible without collaboration between the Schreyer Institute, Education Technology Services and Emerging Technologies

One of the highlights of the report includes a cluster analysis of blog users, which returns three classifications:

  1. Comment dominant users
  2. Entry dominant users
  3. Infrequent users

When we dig a bit further, we find that, over time, the entry dominant users’ GPA increases .06 GPA points from the time they start blogging, compared to .01 GPA for infrequent users and .02 GPA for comment dominant users.

The next minor update will add examples of faculty use of wikis and blogs.  The next major update will focus on the inclusion of iTunesU data.  Thanks to Brian in ETS for the recent export of iTunes data.  Once the semester calms down a bit, we’ll be getting that data into a format to mash with the datawarehouse and see what we discover…

Assessing student learning

Recently, I have found myself in several meetings and informal discussions around assessment.  Penn State is heavily involved in a university-wide program assessment effort, fueled by Middle States accreditation.  Several members of the Institute are involved to assist Undergraduate Education, working with every degree granting program at Penn State to foster a culture of learning outcomes assessment through data.

A colleague pointed out an interesting article in the Chronicle of Education, examining a recent survey of chief academic officers and chairs of board committees on academic affairs across the country dealing with learning outcomes assessment.  The article doesn’t paint a very pleasant picture.  How involved should the Board of Trustees at a university be with learning outcomes assessment compared to other topics, like financial issues?

Institute Research

We are in the process of moving this blog/website from personal PSU space over to departmental space, so I’ll be toying around with the settings over the next week or so in prep for the migration.  In the meantime, we created a “SITE Research” page, available from the top navigation of this page.  I’m putting a lot of effort into finalizing a large report on Blog and Wiki use that will eventually be posted to the Research page, and we’re also working on what we are tentatively calling ‘Research Starter Kits’, basic packets of information for our Teaching Support Grant recipients to hopefully jumpstart the research process around specific topics.  Anyone think of a better name or acronym instead of Research Starter Kits?

2010 Teaching Fellows Award Winners

I had the pleasure of attending the Alumin Association’s dinner last night in recognition of the three 2010 Teaching Fellow Award recipients.  Not only were this year’s winners in attendance, several winners from 2000 to 2009 were also present.  Getting so many like-minded faculty together to talk about teaching left my head swimming with great ideas to apply to my teaching in the future.

The award winners each gave a speech after dinner and a few things stood out regarding each recipient.

Dr. Janet Lyon, Associate Professor of English
Janet talked specifically about the syllabus, and how the syllabus is a carefully crafted document and having a reason for every single line and where it is placed.  Janet also spoke about the importance of movement in a classroom and the ability to read body language and facial cues.  One of my favorite quotes of the night:

It is the height of rudeness to move forward in a lesson when a student doesn’t ‘get it’.

Each reward recipient received a grant of $9,000, and Janet plans on graciously using her funds to buy 9 very mobile projectors for her department, allowing her colleagues access to projectors for classes around the university.

Dr. Oranee Tawatnuntachai, Associate Professor of Finance
Oranee provided a moving speech, detailing her mother’s determination as a student, sitting in elementary school classrooms at age 14, with other students half her age.  This determination was distilled in Oranee, as she detailed her own struggles through her Doctorate program and teaching in general, always with her mother continuing to encourage her not to quit and strive for excellence.  Oranee mentioned her focus on under-performing students, detailing that these students deserve a great deal of our attention to keep them on track for their future.

Dr. Matthew McAllister, Professor of Film/Video & Media Studies
Matt echoed Janet’s words around the importance of a well crafted syllabus and movement in the classroom.  What I found interesting was that Matt (someone in a media field) elects not to use PowerPoint. “Some people use it very well, but I’m not one of them.”  To put this in perspective, Matt teaches courses of 300-350 students.  He does use a computer, but instead of PowerPoint he simply uses things like Word Processing programs to construct things during class with the help of his students.  “Everyone has an opinion on media” he says, so getting students to contribute in such a large settings is possible.