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to “something they really believe in. It’s amazing what kind of great ideas they come up with. They get really involved in what they’re writing — and their writing gets better.”
He also brings in the unexpected as a form of “play.” During a class covering Shakespeare, for instance, he pushed students to find the humor in the first scene of Hamlet. Such scenarios provide “different ways of trying to understand something,” he suggested.
The result: Instead of doing assignments that can be easily looked up online, students are challenged to bring their creativity and imagination to the work they’re doing.
5) Wear Your Wingsuit to Class
Not that long ago, Stearns would write something up as an example before class to be ultra-prepared. Now, he’s far more comfortable just getting up in front of students and winging it. That means he’ll walk to the whiteboard and say, “Let’s do a paper.” He’ll point to a student and ask for a thesis, which he’ll write on the board and then ask for improvements. Once that opening line is done, he’ll move on to the second sentence, and the third, and the fourth, until an entire paragraph has been written. Along the way, he’ll point out repetitive words and have the students suggest alternatives, and the students handle the writing exercise as a group.
“Many students say this is really valuable, because once they got that [first] sentence out, they didn’t know how to do the second one or the third one,” Stearns said. “They
would give up after the two sentences and say, ‘Well, I don’t know what to say.’”
The result: This kind of risk-taking and experimentation not only models techniques for good writing, but it provides step- by-step guidance not so different from a YouTube how-to.
The Real Target for Gen Z Teaching
Years ago, said Stern, “if you didn’t listen to us, you’d get an F in class. Now students are our clients at college. You want them to improve and you want them getting better.” And it isn’t just the Gen Zers being served. The many non- traditional students showing up in class are in tune with the same practices. They want their content delivered with bullet points and more interaction. They want more creativity in how they learn. They want more continual feedback.
So perhaps the biggest impact of the U Hawaii study for Stearns is the realization that it isn’t just Gen Z that learns better with these basic changes in instructional practices — it’s every student. It’s not that Gen Z has a short attention span. It’s that “the more I improve my teaching and the more I make it for Gen Z’s focus, the more I believe that I should have been doing this 10 years ago, 15 years ago,” he observed. “It would have been better teaching for everybody. Gen Z is just making us rethink this.”
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for Campus Technology.
CAMPUS TECHNOLOGY | August/Septembert 2017
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