Teaching "Millennials": Embracing a Digital World

By Peter Connor

Portable laptops, iPods, MP3s, PDAs and, of course, cell phones: these are the trappings of today’s college students. The “Millennium” generation is as familiar with them as the “Boomer” and the “X” generations were with spiral notebooks and ballpoint pens.

As a result, “Net-Genners” are demanding a college education delivered in a manner far different than their predecessors. To meet that demand, colleges and universities everywhere are rethinking and retooling their classrooms, curriculum, and pedagogical methods.

Caught in the middle are the “Boomer” and “X” generation instructors to whom current technologies are not quite so second nature. With widely different familiarity and comfort levels, at issue is how to incorporate highly customizable information technologies into present-day academic environments in a manner that bridges past, present and future for both students and instructors.

Central to the debate is a question of control. Traditional pedagogical methods dictate lectures being delivered from the front of the classroom—the instructor firmly in control—the students gathered around busily scribbling in their notebooks. Today, with today's digital media instruments in hand, students are challenging that control.

Is it any wonder? An increasingly fast-paced and competitive world demands they keep up with present-day developments while preparing for a future in which jobs they are expected to fill have yet to be invented. It’s a turning point for higher education, and technology is in the driver’s seat.

So, how much should colleges cater to the tech-savvy? That’s the question Scott Carlson, IT reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, poses in an article exploring the issue of embracing technology in the classroom. Summarizing the message of Richard T. Sweeney, university librarian at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Carlson (2005, p. A37) begins:

Change your teaching style. Make blogs, iPods, and video games part of your pedagogy. And learn to accept divided attention spans. A new generation has arrived—and sorry, but they might not want to hear you lecture for an hour.

An abrupt opening to a concise overview of current pedagogical challenges: Carlson’s article can be found online at The Net Generation in the Classroom.


Carlson, S. (2005, October 7). The Net Generation in the Classroom. The Chronicle of Higher Education, retrieved August 25, 2007 from http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i07/07a03401.htm