Teaching the Gen Next: Where “Unconventional” could be the new quality dimension

‘Meeting student expectations’ is one of the most important quality indicators of any higher education/vocational education course apart from meeting the client expectations in any sponsored program. Several courses in the western world have a subscription based continuation policy. However, this is one criterion that is very difficult to quantify. Student feedback is one standard measure of the effectiveness of the course/faculty. However this system has its share of criticism. And much of the off-class interaction is not taken into account in this scenario, amidst growing relevance of the student-teacher interactions and impressions that happen off class. This article is centred around the rising student expectations and features.
Recently, I came across a post on Facebook by a student which read, “Not All Good byes are bad. Example: Good Bye Class.”  This sums up the task that the next generation teachers could face. Teaching the next generation of students could be challenging in more ways than we can attempt to list out.  However, it is very much worth a try. The student community today, considering the higher education segment is characterized by several features. Some of the notable ones are as follows:
       Ø    Short Attention Span
Students today have shorter attention span and this has to be considered especially in the backdrop of the classroom delivery aspect. The Ebbinghaus curve could be a good base for scheduling learning sessions and also deciding on the appropriate duration for each session.

Due care has to be taken in order to ensure that the ‘class duration’ is not a hindrance to learning. Several research papers have advocated shorter class durations in order to ensure effective learning. The comprehensive research paper, ‘Learning Our Lesson: Review of Quality Teaching in Higher Education’ by IMHE deals with several issues in higher education including the issue of bottom-up and top-down approach to quality teaching. A class duration ranging from 35 minutes to 45 minutes could be ideal for optimum learning.
      Ø  Multimedia Addiction
The second most prominent challenge is that of multimedia addiction. Most students are addicted to multimedia tools like laptops and mobile phones. A recent study in the UK by Ofcom found that 47% of the teenagers own a smartphone and carry it wherever from bathroom to bedroom. For several students, multimedia tools are a severe addiction and an attempt to get the students off multimedia tools can actually hurt the cause more than help it. Therefore, it could be better to have multimedia tools in the classrooms as an aid to effective teaching-learning process. For example: Asking the students to study and understand the nuances of investing by installing the ‘moneybhai’ could be a good balancing act.
      Ø  Constant Presence on Social Networks:
Youngsters today are hooked on to social networks and “social networking” constitutes nearly half the time they spend online. Facebook has reported over 6 crore active users in India today. A vast majority of this chunk is the “student” segment. Therefore it’s imperative that using social networking as a teaching tool could be appealing to the students. Further, this could also act as ice-breaker and promote better interaction with the teachers/instructors. Facebook is being increasingly seen as a powerful WBTT (Web based teaching tool) by higher education academician across the world. Members of the teaching fraternity are increasingly using social media to increase student engagement. An independent study by Marion Sturges from the University of Western Sydney (Australia) titled, ‘Using Facebook as a Teaching Tool in Higher Education Settings: Examining
Potentials and Possibilities, confirmed that Facebook could be used as a powerful tool in ensuring better student engagement in the higher education setting. Therefore it would be an option that is worth adopting in the higher education segment.

       Ø  Availability of Information:
“Information overload” is a distinctive feature of the generation next classroom. The words ‘Internet’ and ‘Google’ have revolutionized the ways in which students access information and learn. Free and excess information is the order of the day and has its own pros and cons. On a broad plane, the pros certainly do outweigh the cons. However, the teacher has an important role to play in terms of helping students to access relevant and easy information relating to the learning needed. Another implication in this regard to the teaching fraternity is that students expect their teachers to know more about less and also have access to lesser known information about the subject. Teachers can also get more credibility and authority by generating primary data/information and also making students a part of this effort by giving them projects and assignments, fitting their interests. Further, students also go online and check for faculty credentials, their research publications and articles.  So, free and easy availability of information is both a challenge and an opportunity for the faculty members.
      Ø  Mixed Aspirations:
The modern day student community has several career options and also influencers. Many a times, students are confused about their jobs and careers and also express the same to the faculty. The role of an ideal teacher could demand more than just the completion of syllabi. The teachers now need to act as a mentor, coach and guide. The need for higher order skills exits amongst the students and teachers need to facilitate the process of acquisition of such skills. Faculty members could be ‘career anchors’ for the students and play an important role in shaping the future of the students. Catering to the aspirations mix of the students could be an important contribution towards overall development and may help in moulding all the students in the right manner.

       Ø  Complex Relationships:
Several students in the contemporary context have a problematic inter-personal relationship status can hurt the learning process. The teacher has to display necessary empathy and also provide emotional support to the students when necessary. This could involve making certain exceptions when feasible and also motivate the students. Also, this could be a reason for underperformance in certain cases. The teacher has to be extra attentive towards these kinds of students. An atmosphere of trust and openness can definitely help these kinds of students to open up and discuss issues with their faculty members.
       Ø   Diverse Peer Group:
Classrooms today are characterized by diverse peer groups and the diversity is multi-fold. Students from various lingual, racial and national backgrounds are fairly common in many classrooms. The Challenge for the faculty in this case is to capitalize on the diversity factor. This challenge calls for the faculty to be having good conceptual skills, the ability to relate to different cultures, ability to compare and contrast practises and also the ability to effectively critique the same. The Excerpt from ‘GIHE Good Practice Resource Booklet on Designing Culturally Inclusive Learning and Teaching Environments’ prepared by Professor Michelle Barker, Dr Elisha Frederiks and Brona Farrelly brings out this fact very succinctly. This can help the students to have a better world view and also understand and analyse cultural variations. The faculty in this case would have to take care of learning preferences and also the “Multiple Intelligence” factor. The Maimonides’ rule is a good practise keeping the diversity factor in mind. However, there are several questions that have been asked in this regard. The research paper ‘How good is Maimonides’ rule? Strengths and pitfalls of using institutional rules as instruments to assess class size effects’ by Paulo A. Meyer M. Nascimento is one such notable work. All in all, a balanced delivery taking the ‘diversity’ factor into consideration is expected from the faculty members.
      Ø  Hunt for Shortcuts:
Another notable feature of the present generation of students is the constant hunt for shortcuts. This generation has an instant connect with ‘Instant gratification’ and is always on the lookout for easy options. Many a times, they simply don’t like to go the extra mile and pursue goals persistently. Eliciting efforts could be a taxing task for the teachers. Simple things like pre-class reading are considered negligible, by the students leading to inefficient learning process.  Some steps that could help in this respect are to ensure that there is a participative goal setting wherein students are also a part of the academic goal setting process, they are explained the pros and cons of each process, and that they are explained the opportunity cost of avoiding a learning task. The students have to be encouraged to question the relevance of learning tasks and assignments and they should be convinced about the learning process.
               Finally, the real challenge from the quality management angle in this scenario is “quantifying”, “measuring” and “evaluating” the performance/contribution of the faculty members on these ‘unconventional’ parameters!


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