Thursday, February 1, 2007

Who is Today's College Student?

People who turned 18 in 2006 were born in 1988. Beloit College provides a few facts about them in their Class of 2010 Mindset List. Two of my favorites on the list are "Google has always been a verb" and "They have rarely mailed anything using a stamp." They're called Generation Y, and topping the list of almost everyone's definition of Gen Y is "tech savvy." Also known as the Digital Generation or the MyPod Generation, the one thing we do know about them and the way they learn is that they have grown up immersed in technology that still seems new and foreign to many of their instructors. A recent list of got-to-have back-to-school gadgets from contains items I daresay many college professors could not identify.

Simply put, the degree to which technology shapes the mindsets of today's students goes far beyond entertainment values. According to Pew Internet, by 2002, not only did approximately two-thirds of our college students admit to having more than one email address, they were using them to communicate with their instructors with nearly half claiming they shared information via email with professors that they would not have mentioned in person.

That was so 2002. Jump to 2006, and email is already old school with MySpace clocking in at over 56 million users, iPods jumping off the shelves, and text messaging taking over as one of the typical student's primary means of communication.

Today's students have constant digital stimulation in their personal lives. As such, they are less prepared than ever to retain information through the old lecture/test classroom models. What's more, they will leave us to go into careers that consider technological skills to be a fundamental requirement.

One of those most common complaints about bringing technology into the English classroom is "I'm here to teach writing, not computer skills." In today's world, however, the two are one and the same. With or without us, our students are the Digital Age. We can only teach them if we teach them where they live.

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