Are students different today?

I am about to hit my 25th anniversary of teaching, though only 10 of those years were with teaching college age students. It does seem that today’s college student is more emotionally burdened. Yet, when taking into account sampling error or the temporal effects of things like a lousy economy afflicting most of my students right now, it’s tough to parse out if students are really different, or if it’s merely a spurious relationship.

So, I will turn to research that is nicely summarized in the Chronicle of Higher Education that does, indeed, demonstrate that today’s students may be a bit more emotionally stressed than students of prior years, http://chronicle.com/article/Helping-First-Year-Students/127168/. Understanding how students are feeling certainly is an important part of being able to reach them in the classroom.

Yet, the question that demands to be asked is … what is causing this emotional turmoil in students?

This week, in my development classes, I have been teaching about parenting style, where children raised in household of authoritative parents tend to have better long term outcomes as adults than children raised in households with other types of parenting style (e.g., permissive).  As review, an authoritative parent is someone who hold high expectations for his/her child while referencing the child and thus offering moments of flexibility when the situation arises. Children raised in such environments tend to develop healthy self esteems, behaviors that are adaptive for adulthood (like complete your work on time), and interpersonal trusting of others, including professors who tell them it really is necessary to complete all of their homework in order to be successful in class. Yet, if a parent becomes too “flexible” the parent risks becoming permissive. Children raised in permissive household learn how to adapt, but, well … just not as fast as children whose parents held higher expectations for their behavior. Could it be we are facing more and more children who were raised in permissive households? Could this be the driving the following student/professor interaction?  (If my discussions during development class are any indication, it could be … students rated parents who held high expectations for their children in a very negative fashion).

As I end the semester and am seeing some students for the first time, come to my office begging … “What can I do to pass this class?” They seem a little put off by my response. “As I told you on the first day of class and as listed in the syllabus, being successful in this class is fairly simple (1) attend all classes unless you are extremely ill (2) set aside a minimum of 1 hour a day for six days every week for which to read the book, study terms and concepts, and complete homework assignments. (3) Complete all homework assignments as directed in class … COMPLETELY. (4) Get a good night’s sleep before coming to exams with a sharpened pencil and calculator. ”

Their responses is …” sure, I remember that, but what can I do to make all of that up? ”

I guess that is the real thing about statistics and other areas of math and science. As the knowledge is cumulative, always building upon prior information, is if FAR less forgiving for a student who many have been raised in a permissive household, where completing ALL of the homework, EVERY DAY, just wasn’t required. If you miss what the deviation means and how to find the sum of squares, how will you every understand the standard deviation? If you don’t get the standard deviation and the normal distribution, how will you ever understand a t-test? Of course the list goes on. Other classes may enable a student to do most of the work and still get by with a C or dare I say B. But not statistics …

Now … to figure out a way to get 100% of my class to buy into that!

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1 Comment

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One response to “Are students different today?

  1. Bonnie

    Here is another Chronicle article from a professor regarding communicating to students about their academic success.
    http://chronicle.com/article/Its-Not-Hard-Its-Just-Work/127252/

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