For many different reasons, professional and personal, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the unique learning styles of 17-25 year olds. Lots of different names for this group – Millennials, Generation Next, Echo Boomers… you can take your pick.
Many of my friends teach at universities, first year in particular, and though their affinity for their students is obvious, they all talk about the challenge of keeping these little geniuses entertained in class. ‘You have to break it into 30 minutes chunks’, they say. ‘I show lots of videos’,‘We do tons of group work’ Some of them use ‘clickers’ which make class interactive. They ask a question and everyone can guess at the answer using their cell phone. Like a big old game of Family Feud.
All this out of fear of losing their students’ attention. Because then all hell breaks loose. People start to chat. They Facebook. They play YouTube videos out loud. Tweet about how boring class is. One of my friends reported he watched with interest as one of his students watched an entire season of “The Wire” in his class over the course of the semester. Every class he’d come in, sit in the same spot. Hoodie. Rootbeer. Laptop. Headphones.
As I think back to my 19-year old self, squirming through 3 hour lectures, I would have certainly welcomed a clicker question or two. But I would have been hard pressed to have the nerve to watch a narc drama in class, or anything else for that matter. In fact, my roommate once brought a gameboy to a lecture and I almost died with nerves. But she was a total badass, and not particularly reflective of a generation.
Much of what I’m describing here is anectodal and I’m certainly not an expert on Millennials. I don’t know if they will prove to be better or worse students than the generations before them. They’re smart. They can certainly multi-task. It’s probably a good thing that they keep their professors on their toes. But do they read? The research shows they don’t. I worry about this. I want my children to experience the nuances of humanity that I think only a novel can convey.
Maybe they can: I was delighted to find this in Esquire magazine:
Great Works of Literature as Text Messages
Their tag line: Forget Cliff’s Notes. We pare classics like The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby down to text message form.
A few samples:
The Great Gatsby: Rich people r mt
Animal Farm: Pigs >= other animals
And Amy’s soon to be new favourite book:
The Catcher in the Rye: u r all phonies except my lil sis n ded bro 😦
Sounds about right.