Techniques that Connect with Net Geners
The Net Geners learn differently from previous generations. The latest research indicates these students (1) learn by inductive discovery, (2)are intuitive visual communicators, (3) crave social face-to face interaction, (4) are emotionally open, (5) respond quickly and expect rapid responses in return, and (6) shift attention rapidly from one task to another. They function at “twitch” speed, thanks to their video game experiences, mastering complex tasks and making decisions rapidly.
However, in school, guess what? Nearly 50 percent of college freshman report they are “frequently bored in class.” Unless your course content or activity is on their radar screen, it’s as exciting as goat cheese. They live in a complicated remixed, digital, mobile, always-on media environment, albeit, a world of media overstimulation.
Instructionally, these students eschew traditional “talking head,” lecture-driven, textbook-based teaching methods. Instead, they want interactivity, team work with active, participative, visual, collaborative, fast moving, quick thinking, rapid responding, emotionally freeing, spontaneous, combustible experiences. A learning environment with anything less will be borrrrrrring.
As the lyrics to the Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle hit song from Aladdin tell us, we are entering:
A whole new world
A new fantastic point of view
No one to tell us no
Or where to go
Or say we’re only dreaming …
Your students’ world is not better than or inferior to yours; it’s just different. When they cross the threshold of your classroom door, they enter culture shock. They’re numb with understimulation. How can you or any instructor possibly compete with their world? You can’t. The trick is to leverage their worldly elements in your classroom.
Criteria for Picking Teaching Strategies for Net GenersIn picking teaching methods or designing any learning activity for these students, four criteria must be addressed: (1) their world, (2) their characteristics, (3) their multiple intelligences and learning styles, and (4) your standards for quality.
1. Draw on Your Students’ Multimedia World.
You have to get into your students’ noggins and think like them, find out what makes them tick, and view how you teach from their perspective, through their eye-sockets. That means using the music to which they’re listening, the videos and TV programs they’re watching, and the games they’re playing. These activities are driven by their interests and passions as well as their gifts and abilities.
Only by knowing what’s in their world will you be able to connect with them, draw on their interests and what they already know, and extend their knowledge base. Pick media sources the students recognize. That information furnishes the connection between their world and the content you need to cover.
The easiest and fastest method to obtain this information is (are you ready for this answer?): ask them. Conduct a formal survey online or in class at the beginning of the semester, preferably in the first class. The survey takes about10 minutes.
Pass out two or three 3 X 5 cards to the students. Have them number them. Tell them: “On side one, write your three favorite TV programs; on side two, your three favorite movies seen over the past six months; on side three, your three favorite pop music choices; and on side four, your three favorite Broadway shows.” Collect the cards.
Now compile the students’ choices. Take side one and create a frequency distribution of the top 10 TV programs. Do the same analysis for the other three sides. The distributions will yield four top-10 lists. This pool is an accurate inventory of potential instructional material from your students’ world.
2. Be Sensitive to Your Students’ Characteristics.
This criterion relates to salient socio-demographic characteristics, including age, gender, ethnicity, language-dominance, occupations, and whether they’re Boston Red Sox fans. You REALLY need to know your students. These characteristics are a must consideration in choosing the right humor, music, videos, games, and other teaching resources. They must be appropriate for your students.
3. Tap Your Students’ Multiple Intelligences.
According to the latest neuropsychological research, every one possesses 8.5 intelligences and a unique intelligence profile. Traditionally, the content faculty teach is verbal or quantitative in form. Instructors teach English literature verbally and statistics quantitatively. That’s the easiest for the instructors, but not necessarily the easiest for the students to learn. Every student has strengths and weaknesses, and, for example, if Brunhilda isn’t strong in quantitative ability, she will struggle in her statistics courses.
Fortunately, students have other abilities or intelligences, including visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, musical/rhythmic, interpersonal and intrapersonal (equivalent to emotional intelligences), naturalistic, and environmental intelligences. Brunhilda’s strengths may lie in visual/spatial and musical/rhythmic, especially opera.
If we could teach by drawing on these intelligences AND quantitative ability, think how much more effective we could be with Bruinhilda. In fact, if instructors adopted this “pluralistic view of the mind,” probably every student could succeed in every course. This approach builds on students’ strengths first and then develops their weaknesses. Those strengths are their learning styles.
4. Set Standards of Quality for Teaching Strategies and Resources.
A portion of the humor in the media, pop music lyrics, movies, and video games students are exposed to contain inappropriate language, offensive content, and/or violence. You need to set criteria for what is appropriate in a teaching-learning context. Prominent areas of concern relate to profanity; obscenity; and put-downs or ridicule of females, racial and ethnic groups, professions, politicians, and celebrities.
We use humor, music, videos, and games to facilitate learning, not impede it. A student who is offended by a joke or clip will withdraw and fester anger. “Offensive” is a very personal reaction by each student based on his or her own values, beliefs, and principles. Make every effort to reject material that is potentially offensive.
Humor and Multimedia Teaching Strategies for Net GenersThere are five major categories of teaching techniques that can match the preceding criteria and promote state-of-the-art teaching strategies for the Net Geners:
(1) humor, which can foster the instructor-student connection and bring dead, boring content to life;
(2) music, with lyrics or instrumental, which can create excitement in introducing topics, demonstrations, and parodies;
(3) videos, using clips from TV programs, movies, and YouTube, which can illustrate concepts, theories, and practical applications;
(4) games, real and parody versions that can engage students in learning concepts and reviewing content for exams; and
(5) improvisation, which can be adapted as a collaborative learning exercise to develop risk-taking, ad-libbing, role-playing, team building, and critical thinking skills.
There are so many methods you can use across these five categories that any meaningful description is beyond the scope of this article. Step-by-step procedures and research evidence for these methods are already available in my articles, books, CDs, on my Web site, and in the references.