It is the beginning of the summer period again when I am no longer teaching and when I take some time to assess how the year went. After my experiences in the classroom this year, I am convinced more than ever that teaching with the traditional methods of lecturing does not work anymore on the students of the new generation. I am afraid that the failure to realize this is likely to create a gap between professors and the students, and thus stand as an obstacle to success in our classrooms.
The university undergraduate students of today are from a time when their major source of information is the media (TV and Internet especially) rather than the books. Instead of a more digestive way of learning where the students are diving into books, reading long chapters, writing long and detailed papers, using heavy encyclopedia volumes for reference, they are now fast consumers of information as they surf on the Internet and “Google” a topic, ask Wikipedia or watch the 7 pm news, in which all is abbreviated.
I am no neurologist, but I am under the impression that somehow the brains of these students have a different way of processing information. I am from a time when the major source of information was still books. Even I feel certain changes in myself in the way I handle information, which is inevitable as the modern day media require a faster processing of information. For example, lately I realized a change in my attention span: I am no longer capable of keeping myself attentive on a certain topic for a long time. Let’s say I am watching a film on a DVD, I constantly keep pausing the film as I remember doing many other things. This is probably a result of the multi-tasking a modern woman has to perform, and the way the brain has adapted to the constantly changing stimuli and focus.
Still, as I have also experienced a time where one had to sit down in front of books and write long papers, at least I am able to juggle between the two methods. It is both challenging and necessary for me to ask the following question: What should I be doing as an educator to attract the attention of my students, or in other words what should be included into our teaching methods for better results in the classroom?
Here are some tips:
- Traditional methods such as lecturing or assigning readings are still important because the students need to have a basis of information on a topic to continue adding on top of this basis on their own.
- Anything visual makes the students understand topics and issues better. Maps, charts, pictures as well as more unconventional ones such as cartoons, posters etc. are all welcome.
- An interactive classroom is key. Either letting the students pose many questions or making them engage in teamwork (such as a debate) during one part of the class hour is essential.
- Making the students question their own knowledge can create good results. For the first time this year, in one of my classes, I started my class by asking the students in small groups to write down and then report to the class whatever it is that they know about a topic. Assessing by themselves how much they know or they do not know about a topic can be a motivating factor for students to learn more.
- Unconventional courses increase interest in the student body: The International Relations Through Films course I have been teaching as an elective proved to me that students can learn efficiently through sources other than books if they are guided well and learn how to “read” such material.
What would be your suggestions for teaching to the new generation?
Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.