Sunday, November 30, 2014

Kids These Days...

I recently came across an article entitled: Teaching Generation Me.

The article, written for faculty members in medical schools, describes today's students as "Generation Me" and gives some practical advice for teaching today's cohort of medical students.  The article's abstract sums up the research results and the author's inference's this way:

Today’s students (Generation Me) score higher on assertiveness, self-liking, narcissistic traits, high expectations, and some measures of stress, anxiety and poor mental health, and lower on self-reliance. Most of these changes are linear; thus the year in which someone was born is more relevant than a broad generational label. Moreover, these findings represent average changes and exceptions certainly occur. 
These characteristics suggest that Generation Me would benefit from a more structured but also more interactive learning experience, and that the overconfidence of this group may need to be tempered. Faculty and staff should give very specific instructions and frequent feedback, and should explain the relevance of the material. Rules should be strictly followed to prevent entitled students from unfairly working the system. Generation Me students have high IQs, but little desire to read long texts. Instruction may need to be delivered in shorter segments and perhaps incorporate more material delivered in media such as videos and an interactive format. Given their heightened desire for leisure, today’s students may grow into professionals who demand lighter work schedules, thereby creating conflict within the profession.
In short, the author asserts that today's youth know what they want, are self centered, smart, place high expectations on themselves, have inflated egos, don't want to work as hard and, in return, are increasingly stressed out and rely on others (primary their parents) to help them out.

The article is an interesting read and makes some provocative assertions. For example, the author claims that students are more entitled and want higher grades for less output. As proof that students today are more entitled, she states:

Those in high school in the 2000s, who will be the medical students of the 2010s, feel entitled for another reason: they were given better grades for doing less work. A total of 20% fewer high school students did 15 or more hours of homework per week in 2006 than in 1976, and more did no homework at all. Yet the number of A-grade students has nearly doubled over the same period: whereas only 18% of students said they earned an A or A-average in 1976, 33% said they were A students in 2006, representing a whopping 83% increase in self-reported A-grade students. Generation Me has come to expect an easy ride, courtesy of their high school education.
I could spend the entire post reacting to this statement. Suffice to say, that pinning the "grade inflation" issue on hours of homework completed is a "red herring". The grade inflation issue has little to do with the number of minutes a learner spends doing homework and everything to with the assessment and evaluation practices of teachers. In fact, I would argue that the practice of linking effort to grades is one of the causes of grade inflation! Spending more time on work should not inform a student's grade, but rather, a student's demonstrated understanding,  relative the learning outcomes, is what should be graded. 

The article also gives some advice to professors and instructors.  The advice is actually good advice.  But here I would argue the advice has little to do with the year the learner was born, and more to do with....well, good teaching.

Making learning relevant, providing specific feedback and not droning for a 60 or 90 minute lecture are as important today as they were 50 years ago.  

The article, although interesting and somewhat insightful, triggers some discomfort for me.  I have always been uneasy with the labeling of groups of students.

I have been part of conversations where adults are quick to label a certain grade level of kids in a school.

"This group of kids is (fill in the blank - smart, leaders, challenging, etc.)"  

We need to be careful not to label or stereotype groups of students.  The danger, as I see it, is that our stereotypes have the potential to negatively impact that critical relationships between teachers and learners.  It is this relationship, rooted in trust, expertise, and high expectations, that allows teachers to meet the individual needs of students.

Are today's student's more "entitled? Are parents more involved in their children's lives for longer?  Are students expecting more for less? Are they more stressed? (I think they are: Relax: It's only high school)  


But before we label this generation, I think we need to ask ourselves "why"?  What is driving this behaviours?  What role do we -  the educators and creators of the current academic systems -  have in encouraging the very behaviours we are seeing (and complaining about) in our current students?

It was Peter Senge who wrote: "Today's problems are a consequence of yesterday's solutions"

Students today are living and learning in a  different world than their parents and teachers grew up in. It's true that our teaching and learning needs to constantly evolve to deal with today's realities. 

I would also argue that there are some pedagogical constants that we can still hold on to - not because students were were born in a certain decade but because they are good for kids.

I also know that I continue to work with this generation of students because their passion, intelligence, commitment and sense of service to others continues to inspire me.

I think this video clip entitled "Lost Generation" illustrates this nicely:

Kids these days.....what an inspiration!