Category Archives: Millennials

Getting Inspired at the Undergraduate Exhibition

Undergraduates get a lot of bad press these days. I guess that has always been true, but sometimes the laments about the “millennial generation” seem especially loud. So I found it a useful counterbalance to serve as a judge for this year’s Undergraduate Exhibition.

Picture the scene yesterday in the HUB-Robeson Center’s Alumni Hall: Dozens and dozens of research posters produced by Penn State undergraduates, with representation from the arts and humanities, engineering, health and life sciences, physical sciences, social and behavioral sciences, and course-based projects. I was a judge for social and behavioral sciences and got a chance to talk with some extremely smart and articulate undergraduates.

Strolling around afterward, I enjoyed seeing the variety inherent in the research — everything from posters on biosynthesis of Thiostrepton A to analysis of a poet’s oeuvre to an examination of ways that infants’ crawling behaviors affect their communicative development.

It was a humbling and inspiring way to spend an hour.

Getting to Know

While preparing Community in the Classroom this past week, Andrew Porter and I discussed the question:

How do we keep our students from feeling isolated in class?

Our first answer, in simple terms, was: Get-To-Know-Each-Other.

A classroom where students feel like they are known enables them to feel like they belong.  Belonging breeds motivation, risk-taking.  Motivation and risk-taking generate learning, and learning is our goal.  But…

….getting to know each other involves getting closer to personal than can feel comfortable.

In order to help our students down this road, answering low-risk and entertaining questions at some point during class can help to break the proverbial ice over the semester.  No matter the size of your class, these questions can get conversation going between pairs, rows, sections, everybody.  10 minutes of getting to know each other may seem like a lot, but can lead to much richer learning over the long-term.

Below I’ve included 35 get-to-know-you-with-minimal-risk questions compiled and contributed to us by Heather Holleman, lecturer in English. Enjoy!

1.  What is the most interesting course you have ever taken in school?

2.  What is your favorite quotation?

3.  What is one item you might keep forever?

4.  What were you known for in high school?  Did you have any nicknames?

5.  If you could have witnessed any event in sports history, what would it be?

6.  What is something you consider beautiful?

7.  What was your first CD or song you played over and over again?

8.  What accomplishment are you most proud of?

9.  If you could be an apprentice to any person, living or deceased, from whom would you want to learn?

10.  What are three things that make you happy?

11.  What’s one movie you think everyone should see?  What’s a movie you think nobody should see?

12.  Who inspires you?

13.  What’s one thing you want to do before you die?

14.  Get in groups of three people.  What’s the most bizarre thing you have in common?

15.  Whenever you are having a bad day, what is the best thing you can do to help cheer yourself up?

16.  Have you ever experienced something unexplainable or supernatural?

17.  What was your best Halloween costume?

18.  You can choose the question you want to ask the class.

19.  What was the last thing you Googled?

20.  What YouTube video do you watch over and over?

21.  What’s the kindest act you’ve ever witnessed?

22.  Tell us one thing you know you do well (a talent?) and one thing you know you don’t.

23.  What is your favorite way to procrastinate?

24.  What is your favorite home-cooked meal?

25.  What was your favorite childhood toy?

26.  What do you do other than study?  What clubs are you involved in?

27.  What was your first job?

28.  Any brushes with fame?

29.  What’s the story behind your name?

30.  Do you believe in anything that most people might not believe in?

31.  I wish everyone would___________________

32.  What’s the best sound effect you can make?

33.  What’s the funniest thing you did as a kid that people still talk about today?

34.  What was the last thing you bought on eBay?

35.  Tell us something quirky about you. 


A great new nugget on classroom management

Kathy Jackson and I have been thinking a lot in the last 6 months about what it means to teach Millennial students. (See Kathy’s recent SITE blog post for some great resources.) In a recent workshop with faculty from across the Penn State system, we were engaged in a conversation about establishing a healthy learning environment, given Millennial students’ attributes and preferences. One of the attending faculty members raised his hand and very casually said, “I figure out what doesn’t bother me, then I give it away.”

Come again, I thought.

He said, “I figure out what doesn’t bother me, then I give it away.” What he meant (and we were all eager for him to elaborate) is that he thinks about all the things that students prefer in class…Cell phones, texting, computer access, food, whatever. You name it. Some of those things bother him, and some of them don’t. He insists on the things that really matter to him. For example, there may be NO phone calls during class. But he also figures out what he doesn’t really care about; that is what doesn’t really interfere with his teaching or drive him personally crazy. Then he gives it away. He literally tells students that it’s fine. For example, texting. By openly allowing students to engage in some of the behaviors they’d like to be able to engage in (and ones that don’t interfere with learning in a particular class), students feel empowered and are more likely to abide by the mandates that do matter. It’s a great concept!

What? Are we still talking about how to teach Millennials?

Some topics seem to draw people in and one that keeps resurfacing is “who are today’s students?” There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of articles, books, blogs, advice… lots of ways to help us adjust to the students in our classrooms. In some respects, I am reluctant to join the chorus that could be stereotyping students and suggesting that the Millennials* (people born between 1982 and 2004 or thereabouts) are so perplexing that it takes experts’ advice to be effective with the kids these days. I am, however, a firm believer in the importance of knowing your audience and that does take going beyond assessing their prior knowledge. What makes Millennials tick and how can we better reach them in our classes? A wealth of information that describes this generation exists, but there is far less published on how their characteristics impact teaching and learning processes.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to dig deeper into the literature on Millennials because last semester Crystal Ramsay and I provided two departmental seminars on Millennials students. In those seminars we addressed instructional concerns identified by the faculty that included the following: texting/cell phones in class; class attendance issues; feelings of entitlement (deserve a trophy for showing up); not taking responsibilities for their actions and blaming others; not taking charge of their education; and pretending that they get A’s in all of their classes since I’m the only one handing out lower grades.  Do any sound familiar to you?  

On January 19th, we revisited this topic by offering a session for all of Penn State faculty called Teaching Millennials: Engaging Our Students with Instructional Strategies. In this session, we began with a quick reflection on generational markers and characteristics – we all bring ourselves into a teaching and learning situation and our characteristics influence how we respond.  You might like taking the “How Millennial are You?” quiz at the Pew Research Center site. 

While at the Pew site, try and spend some time on their “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next” that provides a deeper look at their behaviors, values, and opinions. Another useful resource on the influences that impact Millennials can be found in “The Information-Age Mindset: Changes in Students and Implications for Higher Education.”

A quick read that suggests initial findings as to what do with Millennials in your classrooms is called, “Why Don’t My Students Think I’m Groovy?: The New R’s for Engaging Millennial Learners”  while another perspective suggests that Millennials need variety in our classrooms.  For some specific instructional issues, you might like to look at a study that addresses “does their low tolerance for boredom make the lecture method less effective?” (Roehling, P.V, et. al. (2011). Engaging the millennial generation in class discussions. College Teaching, 59 (1), 1-6.) as well as another study that looks at how psychological traits influence their learning (Stewart, K.D. & Berhardt, K.D. (2010). Comparing millennials to pre-1987 students and with one another. North American Journal of Psychology, 12 (3), 579-602). There is so much to sort through and decide if it is relevant to you and how you teach and learn with Millennials. Please join in and share with us. I’m finding this is a conversation that gets better as we go along.


Midsemester Feedback – 10 Tips for a Better Class

It is now midway through the semester.  How is your course going?  How do you know?

Now is the perfect time to start soliciting formative feedback from your students.  Collecting feedback from students can serve many purposes.  You can ascertain what students are and are not learning as well as how they are learning it, get formative feedback on your teaching, tailor your course to student needs, increase student motivation, improve student learning and give students an avenue to openly communicate with you about the course.  These tips will help you collect, analyze and implement student responses and forward formative teaching and learning excellence in your classroom.

1.       1. Tell your students that their feedback is important, why you are collecting it, and what you plan to do with their input.  If you let them know how they are going to benefit from their efforts you will get much more thorough and thoughtful responses.

2.       2. Give your students precise instructions and examples of how to present constructive feedback.  Often students do not have experience giving formative (midsemester) responses and may never have been asked their opinions about their own learning experiences.  One of the best ways to solicit good feedbacks is to make feedback a routine part of your course.

3.       3. Let your students know that you are looking for constructive feedback (keep reinforcing this) that you can respond to during the current semester.  You are much more likely to be able to respond to concerns about the pace of your course or difficulty/style of exams rather than pre-determined situational factors such as location, time that the class meets, text book etc…

4.       4. Make sure that you only collect data that you can and will respond to.  One of students greatest complaints are assignments and tasks that take/waste time and aren’t useful to learning outcomes- asking for feedback you can’t or won’t use wastes both your and your students’ time.

5.       5. If you are teaching a large class you may want to use an online polling system to collect your feedback.  Angel, SurveyMonkey and Google Forms all offer anonymous submission options for you to more easily collect, organize and analyze data. 

6.       6. Focus your feedback questions around the following ideas:

a.       What helps you learn in this course?  Examples?

b.      What changes would make the course more helpful? Suggestions?

7.       7. Assess your positive feedback.  Look at what you’re doing well, what the students are responding well to, and what is aiding in student learning.  Keep it up!

8.       8. Carefully look at your feedback and make sure not to focus on a few negative comments.  Compare the responses to your goals and objectives for the course and assess what changes you can make to facilitate student learning.  You may want to review the data with a colleague or make an appointment with a consultant at the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence.  To look more deeply into comments and concerns you may find it helpful to watch yourself lecture or borrow students’ lecture notes and compare what you’re teaching with that students’ are writing down.

9.      9.  It is vitally important that you promptly share your students’ feedback with the class and let them know your plans.  You most likely will not be able to attend to all of the concerns and comments, but your students will appreciate knowing what you plan to do, what you cannot do, and why.

10.   10. Follow-up!

Here’s to formative excellence in teaching and learning!

We have a wide variety of resources available at SITE which you can look at in more depth here or contact us at!

Other resources:

University of Sydney’s Quick and Easy Feedback Strategies:

Cornell’s Teaching Evaluation Handbook:

What are they thinking?

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education caught my eye –  It begins with a story about a group of students who designed a survey that included this question: “On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), do you feel that dyeing your hair purple helps your self of steam?”  I laughed and I wondered how they came to such a conclusion.  How have they not heard the correct term? Do we communicate so that they can hear us? Wouldn’t the “hover generation” know the term self- esteem?  Do we take an opportunity like this one to correct students’ thinking and to hear their logic behind “self of steam” o r is it easiest just to chalk this up to naivety?  Actually this cleverly written article has raised many issues to think about as this semester begins.

Gaming & Bibliographies: Citation Skills Improvement for Students

An article in The Chronicle‘s Wired Campus section “Online Game Teaches Citation Skills” tells about a game (BiblioBouts) developed by some University of Michigan faculty. 

It would be interesting to track this project, which the developers say they hope to make more widely available in future–it would be a great tool for faculty involved in the various First Year Experiences at Penn State.

Wired for Distraction?

Richard Lyons, from Faculty Development Associates, just posted a link to this NY Times story to the POD listserv:

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

November 21, 2010

It is a fascinating follow-up to our “millennial” presentations earlier this semester.  What I am wondering as I read this is whether this seeming inability to focus on schoolwork is going to disadvantage these kids as adults. 

Clearly, teachers and faculty still consider the ability to concentrate and focus to be important skills.  Likewise, the research literature also indicates that they are important for deep learning.  And It seems like employers still want these skills in their employees.  Will things change as these school kids become the employers?  It will be interesting to see…

The Changing Nature of Privacy

I wrote in the past about observations on FERPA and student privacy here at Penn State. Already, I see too many instances where students are seeking jobs and/or internships only to be denied by their inappropriate use of social media. For the most part, I was only thinking of students.

Today, a colleague passed me an article relating to social media and divorce cases. An interesting stat from the article:

“The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81% of its members have used or faced evidence plucked from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites…over the last five years”

I had no doubt people were being singled out in marital cases for their use of social media, but I had no clue the percent would be this high.  In all my time as a teacher I continually stressed responsible use of social media and to constantly be vigilant and up-to-date with privacy settings.  Now, as a faculty consultant working in a teaching center, I really wonder if we should be spending more time educating faculty on the same topics, ensuring they do not have information or artifacts in publicly available social spaces that might get them, or the university, in ethical or legal dilemmas.  Does anyone know if other Teacher Centers in the US are actively educating faculty on the use of Facebook and social media in terms of managing their own identity online?