Students demand connection and feedback, now

Students currently going through the higher education system are part of a "net generation" who expect instant feedback because of their heavy reliance on mobile phones, social media and video games, a conference has heard.

December 15, 2011

Arlene J. Nicholas, an assistant professor in the department of business studies and economics at Salve Regina University in New England, spoke at the Society for Research into Higher Education conference, held in Wales last week, giving findings from her research on learning methods among 100 students at a small private university.

She told delegates that the current generation of US students - defined as those born between 1981 and 2000 - were the most diverse, with a third defined as non-white or Latino. But they are also the most demanding, Dr Nicholas claimed. "This multimedia generation seems to expect multiple methods to learn," she said.

She added that the net generation could be easily upset by negative feedback but nevertheless wanted more feedback than any other generation.

Looking at the learning expectations and preferences of the net generation, her research found that nearly two-thirds of students still consider lectures to be the preferred format of instruction. In addition, 85.8 per cent of students preferred lectures that made use of PowerPoint slides.

Dr Nicholas' research showed that students found long essays and team case studies less helpful for improving knowledge. Instead, they preferred to do short essays and individual and team presentations.

A separate case study conducted among business students by Dr Nicholas on the use of a wiki for a project workspace found that, by the end of the project, more than half of the students found it useful, with nearly a third considering the wiki to be more convenient than email or paper.

It was also discovered that students responded positively to the use of clickers in the classroom. Clickers are a tool that allow lecturers to determine instantly how many students know the correct answer to a question.

However, technological advances have not been embraced by all the net generation. Dr Nicholas found that, given the option between a $50 (£32) hard copy and a free e-textbook, about a fifth of students still preferred to use only the printed textbook despite the expense.

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