Posts tagged with “challenges of teaching”

What the Heck Do We Teach Them?

Thursday, 3 June, 2010

If the jobs that most current students will do when they graduate don’t yet exist, and we’re supposed to be preparing them for the workforce, then what the heck do we teach them?

As you may know, I teach Business Communication part time at BCIT and earlier this week we had a Professional Development workshop for the department. We had some interesting speakers (including department members) and a lot of the discussion focused on teaching millennials. One morning session was lead by Jim Muldowney, a former instructor at North Island University, and he talked about the challenges of teaching the NetGeneration (to use a Don Tapscott term).

It was an interesting discussion and one point that I brought up (because of my experiences as a South African and a teacher in the Third World) was the fact that the majority of the research out there focuses on a lot of assumptions around access to technology, and centres largely on the First World. I would be really interested to see some research done on the same age group in places where technology isn’t as prevalent. Do the same types of values hold? Are the differences between generations less apparent? Do they have different abilities and principles?

An area that Jim addressed was around the assumptions that many researchers are making about so-called shared principles and abilities of the NetGen. One of the major inferences is that when confronted with all the information that is at their fingertips on a daily basis, the NetGen has the ability to think critically and analyse the billions of megabytes of data zooming at them. Not so true if some of the research papers I have seen over the years as a teacher can be taken as empirical evidence…

Having studied an MA, I am well familiar with the scornful “so what are you going to do with that?” questions. One thing that I can truly say that I learned in my years of study in Humanities was the ability to think critically, evaluate texts (of any kind – image or written), and select the best material for my purposes. This has given me frustration at times (I can often not watch movies or read books without overanalysing), but also great joy at the layers of meaning and information I have uncovered for myself.

These skills have also in turn, I feel, lead to a stronger ability to do the same with people, and have well prepared me for the path of an entrepreneur. I would not trade these skills for all the “practical, useful” degrees in the world. As the realms of information and technology, and education change, I agree with Jim; I think we are assuming a level of sophistication that just isn’t there yet. I know it certainly took me time, effort, passion, and engagement to reach a certain level of ability, and I had the guidance of instructors along the way.

To me, this lack of sophistication can be a good thing though, because as educators, we are working with a clean slate. However, the difficulty is always the fact that we have limited time and resources to try and get through a curriculum and also promote and instill these skills. In a culture that I have observed to be very entitlement-based, this is certainly a challenge. Add to the fact that I teach at a training institute and the challenge swells.

One thing that I took away from the workshops, though, was the need for us as educators to be adaptable. I think this is a vital skill in business too. Something else that Jim discussed struck me immensely; the students are a resource in themselves, and we should be talking to them about what they want. If collaboration is a sign of the new world of communication, then this needs to become a large part of what we do, for our own success, and theirs.

Geraldine