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.
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!