Three Steps Faculty Can Take to Help Today’s Student

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Do you know how to help students prepare for the real world?

After seeing what Austin, a nineteen-year-old university student, could do with his iPhone, I remarked, “Wow. That’s incredible. If you could ever figure out how to get paid to do that, you’d be a rich man!”

This is a picture of an entire generation.

According to a recent study, it seems the American educational system hasn’t adequately prepared students to utilize technology for problem-solving. The study goes on to recommend steps that schools and businesses can take to attack this issue. In short, the report confirms that Millennials know technology well but can’t translate it for practical issues. In other words, Austin still resides in an “entertainment village.”

What can students do who live in such a world?

  • They can take selfies.
  • They can connect through social media.
  • They can shoot video for a Snapchat.
  • But…ask them to leverage that to solve problems at work, and they’re stuck.

So what’s happened to student-faculty relationships? They have evolved. Students often don’t expect to make a connection between what happens in class and in the real world; they just want a good grade. According to Emory professor Mark Bauerlein:

They’re quite content with their teachers; after all, most students receive sure approval. In 1960, only 15 percent of grades were in the ‘A’ range, but now the rate is 43 percent, making ‘A’ the most common grade by far. Faculty members’ attitudes are kindly, too. In one national survey, 61 percent of students said that professors frequently treated them “like a colleague/peer,” while only 8 percent heard frequent “negative feedback about their academic work.” More than half leave the graduation ceremony believing that they are “well prepared” in speaking, writing, critical thinking and decision-making.

This makes for smooth sailing during college. But then, the real world hits.

Michele Molner writes, “Change the Equation, a Washington-based organization promoting STEM courses, (science, technology, engineering, and math), observed how U.S. Millennials—the first “digital natives” because they grew up with the Internet—fared in an international study of adult skills in 19 nations. To do so, the organization conducted an original analysis of data from the 2012 Program for International Assessment of Adult Competencies, which tested the key cognitive and workplace skills needed to participate in society.”

Linda Rosen, CEO of Change the Equation, said, “58 percent of Millennials struggle to use digital tools and networks to solve relatively simple problems that involve skills like sorting, searching for, and emailing information from a spreadsheet. Beyond that, 19 percent of the U.S. population sampled cannot categorize using technology,” she said. “That capability involves a task as simple as creating folders to handle the daily deluge of email. Translated into earning capability, a person with the highest ability to problem-solve with technology is likely to earn more than double what a person at the lowest level earns, according to the organization’s analysis.”

Did you catch that number? More than double.

Three Steps Schools Can Take…

Jo Handelsman, White House associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, offers three suggestions for schools and businesses:

  1. Add relevance to what is taught in the classroom by asking students to solve real-world problems, including ones that businesses allow students to tackle. “This is particularly significant for women and minorities,” she said. Studies show that they have a higher need for relevance to keep them interested in STEM, according to Handelsman.
  2. Change how teachers teach. “So much of K-12 education is passive,” she said. “It’s the old-fashioned lecture model, with rote memorization.” Injecting the “exciting aspect of real-world work” like coding and creation will increase students’ receptivity to STEM, noting that students need to learn with “hands-on, active techniques” in science and technology. Kids will “start expecting it,” she said, “and teachers will come along.”
  3. Improve the image of STEM and STEM careers. “That’s an area where we have to work with larger media,” she said, emphasizing the importance of “getting images of exciting people in exciting careers” into the public eye.

The bottom line? I have rarely met a student who becomes genuinely passionate about any career without both exposure and experience. I believe we need to find ways to involve students in real-world work environments, where they work with their hands, their minds and in community with others. The earlier the better.

 

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