Comments on the 2005 UMW Faculty Academy

Diana Oblinger’s thought-provoking presentation, Educating the Net Generation, based on her book of the same title, asked how can we (better) engage the net generation in (academic)learning.

According to Diana, the net generation is focused on grades and performance. Moreover, they process information differently than earlier generations. They are:
� Digital (though not necessarily digitally literate)
� Connected
� Experiential � they like to learn by doing
� Immediate
� Social

Additionally, net geners have different learning preferences:
� Teams, peer-to-peer (Peer learning/ peer tutoring; Students teach other students; High ability students actually gain the most!)
� Engagement and experience (If you don’t engage them, they will tune out.)
� Visual and kinesthetic (They don’t read texts, but they do pay attention to images and video. Get the students to move around every 10 minutes)
� Things that matter (e.g. Service learning, use real data)

This raises a question for me: How does Diana’s argument mesh with the literature on how different people, even within a given age group, have different learning styles?

Several people in the audience had a larger concern for what seemed to be an underlying assumption of Diana’s remarks: that it is our responsibility as educators to adjust our teaching to best fit our students’ learning styles. The concern might be expressed in several ways: How much can we expect to change our students’ expectations, learning styles, etc, and how much do we need to change to reach them? In other words, how can we/should we synch with our students?

Chip German really went to the heart of the matter when he asked: what is the core content of a liberal education and what is delivery method? It may be that faculty are confusing the latter with the former. If instructional technology can suggest a better delivery method for the same content, I think we should pursue that. So the key question is really where to draw the line between content and presentation?

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15 Responses to Comments on the 2005 UMW Faculty Academy

  1. Gardner says:

    Thanks for that helpful summary of Diana’s presentation. Your questions are all good ones, too. I share the concern that we not pander to students who want a superficial “infotainment” to replace the real, and really difficult, rigor and commitment that true education requires. But I don’t think “infotainment” is where we’re headed. I think we’re headed to a place that many students, frankly, would not want to go if the matter were put to a referendum: a learning environment in which the “been there, done that” of conventional teaching and learning explodes into an “anywhere, anytime” enriched environment that asks real and consistent engagement from them instead of “gaming the system,” in your fine phrase.

    I’m not sure where to go with Diana’s take on high-ability students learning more by teaching lower-ability students. I can see how that would be true. On the other hand, I look at my high-ability colleagues, and I see that high-ability people need to be fed and nurtured too. But that’s a topic for another blog.

    Keep on bloggin’.

  2. So where’s the controversial piece?

  3. Jeff says:

    Another question to ask might be, “Where do we draw the line between professor and student, between teacher and learner?” Your own class wiki experience raised some important questions about some massive changes in the content delivery process that have the potential for making upsetting, if not overturning, that long standing dynamic.

  4. Jeff says:

    That last part should be “for upsetting, if not overturning, that long standing dynamic.”

  5. Anonymous says:

    When I was a new faculty member I practised the traditional view of the faculty as expert dispensing knowledge to the unwashed students. In other words, the line between professor and student was very clear and very broad. In recent years, I find I get more engagement from students if I present myself as a learner like them, but who is further along in investigating interesting questions. As a consequence I know more than they do, but still don’t have complete answers to all the questions. So the line is less clear and less broad. So I think I’ve probably already upset the long standing dynamic.

    – steve

  6. Jeff says:

    I think you certainly have with the wiki class, and I’ll bet it shows though in other ways in your other classes. However, I wonder how much of that has to with your own status as a more established member of the faculty? I ask because I have the sense that newer faculty members who try to blur that faculty/student line a little risk having students not take them (or their class) seriously. [I could cite specfic examples in other contexts where this has happened.]

  7. Anonymous says:

    Good point! That’s why for many years I intentionally dressed up for class wearing a tie and sometimes a jacket. I’ve found that this concern is more of a factor in introductory classes, less so in upper level ones, where your reputation precedes you. For me, the line is least clear in my senior seminars where I feel very comfortable presenting the course as a team effort towards a common goal of understanding, recognizing at the same time that we’re not all at the same level of understanding.

  8. I like to think of students as cognitive apprentices. They learn from me twice: once as I demonstrate my thinking, and again as they witness my metacognitive processes.

  9. Jeff says:

    I think you’re right about the senior seminars being places where that line is most blurred. I guess part of the problem I’m raising has more to do with young faculty and unsuccessful attempts to blur the line. I’m thinking of a friend who tried to encourage students in his upper-level, disussion oriented class to be active learners, to place himself in the class as a fellow learner; however, he ran into real (huge, massive) conflicts with students over the grading of papers (in other words, when the more typical power dynamic was in effect). These conflicts bled over into classroom management issues, as students began to challenge him (and not in a good way). I have to wonder if part of the problem was that the more egalitarian dynamic, combined with his less definitive status in the department (he was an adjunct at the time), led students to challenge his authority in ways that came to dominate the class (and obscured any potential educational gains).

  10. Jeff says:

    Let me be clear, I’m not challenging the idea of more egalitarian student-teacher dynamics. I’m just saying that it is an idea with a number of potential problems that warrent cautious implementation.

  11. Jeff says:

    That would be “warrants”. 🙂

  12. I don’t think “egalitarian” is the right word. Students rightly insist that we are not their equals. Presenting ourselves as advanced fellow learners is actually a way of teaching them what “expertise” means. We are the experts, we are the professionals–but a difference in degree (sorry) is not necessarily a difference in kind. The bigger issue here is not one of authority, in my view, but the industrialized educational paradigm itself.

    Another elephant in the room is grading, which many students see as a wage, not as a formative evaluation of their work. Again, the current educational paradigm keeps us from seeing grades clearly as instances of professional judging, just like the feedback my high school band used to get at band clinics. But that’s another thread.

  13. Anonymous says:


    Can you say a bit more about how your students “witness your metacognitive processes” as distinct from your thinking?

  14. Anonymous says:


    I don’t have any concrete suggestions for your young faculty friend. Grades are a tough issue, where the rubber meets the road. I recall when I was a young faculty member that things were great in my classes until midterm time when I started awarding grades. Many students acted betrayed. How could I discuss issues with them like a peer (I was only a couple years older.) and then give them poor grades?

    A few years ago, I figured out a grading philosophy that makes sense for me, which I share with my students. Instead of the student as consumer metaphor, I use the instructor as physician metaphor come grading time. I see grades as my best professional judgement of how students are doing, how much they are learning in my class. Just as one wouldn’t try to negotiate with a doctor for a better diagnosis, it makes no sense to negotiate with me for a better grade (unless, of course, I’ve made a genuine e.g. mathematical mistake.

  15. Two quick replies:

    1. “Witness my metacognitive processes” means “watch me search for thoughts,” more or less. Watch me think about thinking. You could say that thinking is always thinking + thinking about thinking, and I wouldn’t disagree, but there’s something about watching someone mull over a thought in your presence that particularly delightful and motivating and instructive.

    As for grading, I like the physician metaphor very well. I’ve used that myself. I also bring it in with regard to plagiarism, comparing cheating to handing a physician someone else’s x-ray. The other metaphor I use is simply that of judge or referee.

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