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by Jennifer Graydon

Our first Project ACC Faculty Fellows assignment was to conduct a focus group with our students. This was a humbling experience. As I sat and listened, my students had the opportunity to teach the teacher how they learn best. For the focus group, I asked my students “If you could tell your Professors before the start of the semester how you learn best, what you would tell them?”

The responses reflected an overwhelming need of students to be engaged with learning by using more than just listening to lecture and taking notes, the primary methods when I went to college. Students say that they learn through multiple pathways such as visual cues, concrete examples which help them apply the material, and in-class discussions which helps further solidify the information. I would also argue that the learner of today may be used to receiving information at the speed of light and in quick soundbites. I asked students “How does technology affect the way you learn?” I expected students to say that their attention spans when it comes to an hour and twenty minute lecture would be quite brief. What they said is that technology in general actually helped them. One student cited using technology in the classroom such as PowerPoints, videos, and visual images “helped to get a picture in (my) head and helped (me) better understand what was being explained and talked about.” They also reported liking having information such as videos and PowerPoints easily accessible and available to them via the course Blackboard site.

However, there is a downside to technology as well. Although I have a “no cell phone in view” policy in my class, this is an ongoing struggle for my students. Most students stated that technology was indeed a distraction inside class and contributed to procrastination. One student stated “Technology TOTALLY affects my attention in class and, especially when studying, I have to put my phone away or it’s too tempting.” Another student commented “If my phone is anywhere near me, nothing gets done.” This was a theme echoed throughout the surveys. A select few students stated that they were able to power off and put their phones away in another room in order to complete coursework. Another student reported having to give her phone to her grandmother until she was done with her assignments. And yet another student said “It is one reason I like taking online classes. I am always on the internet and at least if I’m doing homework or reading about something of substance I can feel better about being online.”

It appears the professor of the 21st Century has to work harder to keep their students’ attention and get them engaged with the material. When asked what teaching methods do not work, most students stated “straight lectures are not effective (for me)—I tend to lose interest.” Lectures that are simply auditory in nature will not capture the interest or attention of today’s learner. I asked students “So how can I as a professor compete with cell phones?” The resounding answer was “You can’t!”

While I was not surprised by their responses, it made me think of how much education has changed since I was in college. When I went to college, I could be in a lecture hall with up to 500 students and take copious notes. The Professor had no personal connection to students, and how could they really with a class that size? The Professor talked and we were to receive information by listening and taking notes.

Fast forward to the students of 2017. Today, students have technology and can look up information on the fly on their phones in class, access course materials from Blackboard from any place at any time, and print out PowerPoints, making note taking a dream! It was interesting to hear and value the student perspectives, insights and knowledge base. Students appear to receive and consume information much differently than when I was in college, and often seemingly at the speed of light. No longer do students wish to be passive recipients of information. They want to be engaged, and they want to be involved as co-participants in their learning process. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to hit the “pause” button to just listen to my students’ perspectives, for our students have so much to teach us!