by Olaf Ernst, Visiting Scholar,  NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences (Visiting Department of Recreation and Tourism Management, VIU)

olaf4Like with new technical products, which new versions replace the old ones after a while, within educational environments much is said about the ‘new student’. Many popular and scientific articles are published about this new prototype, we should maybe call student 3.0. After all, for a long time we expected from 1.0 students to sit down, listen to their professor and write down notes. A few decades ago we realized more interaction was needed, so learning became more interactive and self-steering. Cooperation, reflection and all kind of other nice competenices were asked from our 2.0 ‘future leaders’.

And now, only relatively short after this wave of student centered learning, experts tell us students are changing and we should adapt to their needs and skills. The reason for this: a rapidly transforming world and especially the role technology plays in the life of young people. This led to a generation which can be described by the following characteristics: students do not read anymore, experiential learning is key, studies is just a part of their life (and not the most important), students want to multi-task, technology should be used in the class room, students are independent and design their own program and reproduction of knowledge should be minimized as much as possible. Wow, is this not an impressive list of things you should take into consideration? Looking at this, universities seem to have a mission impossible, as where do you need to start if our student population has changed so much over the last couple of years?

The reality in class tells me something different though: some of these features mentioned above I see clearly coming back, such as seeing studying as a part time activity, the ability to multi-task (read: checking Facebook, sending text messages and listening to a teacher) and the lack of reading. On the other hand, many students still expect and like to see a course that is totally structured and explained, where they know exactly what is expected from them and which leaves not a lot of room for autonomy.

It seems like they need something to get a hold on, maybe even one of the few things in their life….I co-facilitate a course to students where we left many things open and we invited our students –who are actually almost at the end of their studies- to co-design the course content together with me and my colleague. In order to do this, we ‘threw’ many options at them and gave them room and freedom to work out things themselves. During a mid-term feedback session the main feedback we got was that the course was unstructured and that the teachers should come up with innovative alternative class set-ups and contents….So what went wrong here? Did we overestimate the students? Maybe they do not want to have a more flexible course set-up? Or didn’t we explain our ideas about course co-creation enough?

All in all, I do not recognize this new student that much in the everyday class room. Maybe it is just a matter of time and within a few years indeed a new type of students flocks into our universities. What keeps bothering though when thinking about this topic is the set-up of the education students have before they come to university. In other words: are all our elementary and secondary school teachers  aware of this and prepared to adjust their classes to the need of these new generations? And if not, are students not ‘conditioned’ in an old system way of thinking? Well, I guess you know the answer….