Millennials don’t always have the greatest reputation. They are accused of being needy, entitled, and rife with unrealistic expectations. True, this generation may have its faults, but millennials are not all bad. Over my past decade of teaching, I have lived through the shift from the late Gen Xers to the millennial newbies; on any given work day, I interact with between 50 to 60 of these tweeting, googling, ear-budded specimens born between 1982-2000. I have to say, though, that there is a lot to like. Below is a short list of how millennial students have made my classroom a better place.
1. When it comes to technology, millennials are just the best. You have to spend some time with non-digital natives to truly appreciate how awesome millennials are when it comes to all things tech. When I first started teaching, I had to spend exorbitant amounts of class time showing students how to sign up with and navigate through the course’s various and sundry course-management systems. Millennials can do this stuff with their eyes closed. Instead of complaining about course-related tech, my students actually have suggestions for how to integrate new technology into our course. For example, a student recently introduced me to quizlet.com as a great tool for virtual flashcards. Not bad. As an added bonus, millennials’ tech savvy renders classroom disasters a la “technical difficulties” nearly obsolete. Is the projector in your classroom down? Just get on your iPhone and send the link to your Powerpoint to the class list serve; in less than a minute, you will see twenty cell phones out and your Powerpoint reflected in the lenses of a bunch of over-sized black-rimmed glasses.
2. They know their generation…and yours. In his latest standup, Aziz Ansari jokes that even if young people were against gay marriage (they’re not), they would never get upset about it because they are too busy, “literally, watching every movie that has ever been made.” Think about it: an insane amount of humanity’s artistic, political, and societal contributions are a few clicks away. If you tell your students to research JFK for homework, they can watch a documentary, listen to a speech, see the Dallas footage, and read several abbreviated biographies. On their own. In less than an hour. For free. This access to, well, everything, also means that highly individualistic millennials often connect with soft culture from outside of their own generation. I am continually shocked by just how many of my students get my Frank Zappa jokes and actually expand upon them. They know about prohibition and the lure of bootleggers because they took thirty seconds to look it up on Wikipedia when they heard their grandparents mention it. They can sing along to Guns N’ Roses. Millennials use primary (digital) sources to acquire large amounts of soft culture from other generations (sometimes ironically) while forming their unique sense of self.
All of these pieces grabbed out of the intergenerational digital ether and incorporated into the millennial mosaic make this generation feel somehow more relatable than Gen Xers. When they come together to form a group, things can get really eclectic, and there is generally something for everyone. This also makes my job quite interesting when it’s time to read final papers…
3. They share things. Thanks in part to social media, millennials are quite comfortable sharing information (though they have become more clever about it now that mom’s on Facebook). If you can create a safe enough environment in your classroom, millennials will open up with some of the most honest and candid student-led discussion that you have ever heard. A textbook’s droll synopsis of immigration in the United States unexpectedly gets everyone’s attention when a student shares the challenges he faced when his family left their country to work in a restaurant in New York City. A classroom discussion on healthcare reform resonates as a young woman speaks openly about a relative’s terminal illness and how managing doctors’ appointments and hospital visits shapes her daily life.
In the past I have spent countless hours scouring the internet for news stories, testimonials, etc. in order to make course topics more relevant for my students. Now, when introducing new material, I simply invite students to share their prior knowledge or experience (if they are comfortable) either in class or on our discussion boards/blogs. Often I find that even students who do not have personal experience in an area have read extensively on the topic due to personal interest or projects from other courses. This background information affords me the ability to create lesson plans that will be engaging and will maintain the momentum of a course.
4. Millennials can work it. The fact that those entering the job market are earning less than their parents did at their age is not lost on millennials, and many have already seen meager employment prospects force an older sibling back to the homestead. Generally speaking, these students genuinely feel the urgency not only to earn their degree, but to stand out to potential employers. Simply put, they will work – a lot. This is part of the reason as to why millennials have been exploited in unpaid or low-pay internships that never materialize into gainful employment. Within the context of a college course, this sense of urgency means that millennials will put in the work needed to gain the knowledge (and/or the grade) that they need to be successful in the next phase of life. I have found that as long as I incorporate consistent formative assessment, the great majority of millennial students stay current with their readings and assignments. When students arrive to class fully prepared, it affords them the ability to truly engage in the material, making class time especially productive and gratifying for both the students and the instructor. Many educators have further capitalized on millennials’ diligence by assigning portions of “traditional” lecture as homework, allowing for even more application activities, interaction, and learner agency during class meetings.
5. Their feedback will make you better. Millennials have come of age in a constant feedback loop, regularly providing and receiving social media commentary on almost all aspects of their own and their friends’ lives. Feedback itself is a part of life: Millennials conduct social media probes of potential partners, skim Yelp reviews before making reservations, and yes, even Google their professors before enrolling in classes. Over the past several years, I have noticed that my students’ evaluations have become more detailed, significantly less catty, and more…helpful. Their experience has made them well aware of the value of feedback, and they provide it (1) knowing that others will read their comments and (2) expecting that it will at the very least be taken into consideration. My millennial students have provided me with some of the most insightful feedback that I have ever received, and I am grateful for it. A few years back, several students gently informed me that my (admittedly feigned) early morning intensity was coming across as disingenuous; I relaxed a bit, and my early classes have been much smoother since. More recently, many students commented that my practice of posting the day’s objectives at the beginning of a class and referring back to them throughout was quite helpful and made them feel more grounded in the material. Before receiving their comments, I had considered decreasing these references, suspecting that they could have been repetitive. These are just two of many examples of millennial feedback that have made me a more effective educator.
In short, I have a lot of respect for this young generation. Sure, they are not perfect, but millennials can have a tremendously positive effect on the classroom and on the pedagogy of an instructor who can cultivate their strengths. Have millennials positively impacted your classroom? Let us know in the comments!
© HigherEdgy, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to http://www.higheredgy.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.