Who are the college students of the future? They are the young, technophilic, elementary, middle and high school students who are constantly engaged with computers, cell phones and tablets that give them immediate gratification; and they want those tools to be used in their classrooms.
Children today are being raised in a much different world than that of their teachers and professors. According to a study by Internet security company AVG, 92 percent of children have an online presence, mostly in the form of baby pictures, before they are two years old. “Outside of school, our children are bombarded with digital input- and they have been since the day they were born,” says Peggy Sheehy, an instructional technology facilitator at Suffern (NY) Middle School. Younger students today are “digital natives.”
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children, ages 8 to 18 years old, spend on average about 7.5 hours per day, outside of school, using some form of media. Much of this time is spent “media multi-tasking,” where they might write a research paper, text with a friend, and listen to music all at the same time. These students are active learners who thrive on immediacy and continuity, and they expect classrooms to be structured in a way that is engaging and creative. “I’m an entertainer. I have to do a song and dance to capture their attention,” said Hope Molina-Porter, an English teacher at Troy High School in Fullerton, California. Researchers believe it is the endless use of technology by young people that can lead to lower attention spans, and a constant need to switch tasks.
Students may be distracted by technology outside of the classroom, but they are also using it to take a more active role in learning, and it can create a more entertaining and interactive environment in the classroom. “Technology, from my perspective, has created an opportunity for students to use new digital-media resources to express themselves in ways that earlier generations could never have imagined,” said Julie Coiro, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Rhode Island.
Current middle and high school teachers are already using technology on a daily basis in the form of educational video games or the use of cell phones and laptops in the classroom. In a PEW Research Center study, 73 percent of Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers said their students used cell phones in the classrooms or to complete assignments. When these young students graduate and begin their college careers, they will expect the continued use of technology to enhance their learning experiences.
The desire for new ways of teaching can already be seen with current college students, who are beginning to reject the typical university lecture. “With modern technology, if all there is is lectures, we don’t need faculty to keep doing them,” said Joe Redish, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland. “They can do it once and put the video on the Web.” Redish believes lecturing is not the most effective teaching method, especially with information so easily accessible, and is working to change the way college classes are taught. Professors all over the country have begun to find new ways to bring creative learning platforms and technology into the college classroom to engross students. Teaching concepts such as peer instruction, authorship learning and blended or flipped classrooms have all been able to grab the attention of otherwise apathetic students.
The use of computers and other technologies continues to increase exponentially, and the students of tomorrow will benefit from college professors who can create engaging classes that ensure students are prepared to use technology correctly and efficiently as a tool to assist in, rather than replace, higher education.