A Vision of Students Today

Posted on May 6, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

This is a YouTube video created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University. It tries to summarize the needs, goals, and dreams of current college students while also recognizing the demands, stresses and anxieties that their education is producing.

I've had the opportunity to watch this video in a few of my classes this year and every time I view it I'm left with a profound sense that I am just beginning to understand the struggles and challenges that today's students face.

There’s only 24 hours in a day:

To me one of the most shocking things in the video is the breakdown of an average student’s day which contains 26.5 hours worth of reading, going to class, TV watching, facebooking, eating, and more. I see this fact playing out in two very different ways with the students I interact with on a regular basis. On the one hand, I’m often dealing with students who have been found responsible for academic integrity violations (cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or assisting) and their number one reason for doing so is because they ran out of time. In order to address this issue, I recently added a new assignment to our academic integrity seminar that all first time violators go through as part of their sanctions. I have students fill out a week by week schedule for the term complete with all test dates, project due dates, etc. I also have them fill out a weekly schedule where they can plot the best times to study, eat, workout, have fun, etc. Each student meets with me one on one after attending the seminar and we review their schedules at that time.

I also advise the student spring break group and I see their busy schedules adversely affecting their ability to participate fully in our program and in other things they are committed to doing. Perhaps it is just the fact that students who are engaged in one area of student life (government, Greek life, community service, cultural centers, etc.) are usually engaged in several and are therefore unable to devote their full energy to any one thing at a time. This is frustrating from a adviser’s standpoint because we’d like to believe that we’ve got our students full attention, but it is probably better to face the reality that our students will not simply quit multitasking just to attend our programs.

Class engagement:

I think we hear the word engagement a lot. Astin, Tinto, and other student development theorists champion the concept of engagement/involvement as essential in order for students to truly get the most out of their education. However, we can see in this video that the classroom environment is often not very engaging. Whether it’s because books, readings, and assignments are deemed irrelevant, class sizes too big and impersonal, or students spending more time texting than paying attention to lecture notes, the amount of time that students spend focusing on their academics seems to be dwindling. The question becomes how can educators (both faculty and staff) revamp their classes and introduce assignments that are relevant and useful to the greatest number of students. I think this requires educators to be intentional in creating course objectives that push students to develop transferable skills. In today’s job market that means knowing how t use technology,  multicultural capacity, teamwork, communication and presentation skills, etc. While the job a student is going to apply to in three years might not exist, it is imperative that educators give them a solid backing in the skills they will need to successfully transition into jobs of the future.

The Lucky Ones:

Lastly, I think it is important that we recognize the level of perspective that these students have when they admit to being the lucky ones. They may have hectic schedules and huge debt coming out of school, but at least a few of them realize how much better they have it than the lionshare of the world’s population. Given the large problems facing the world today (wars, global warming, food and fuel shortages, downturns in the economy) there are plenty of things for these students to be worried about and as two students point out “I did not create the problems. But they are MY problems”. I think it is important for those of us who are just now going into the profession of student affairs to share with our collegues the fears, frustrations and angers that we experience as part of this group of young people charged with such a large mission.

Technology: Friend or Foe?

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2 Responses to “A Vision of Students Today”

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Glad you posted this. It really is a compelling video. What is your take on it? Have you visited Wesch’s blog? I enjoyed reading his description of how this video was developed (http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=129). He’s a cultural anthropologist, and the students in his class helped create this video out of their observations of student culture. He includes a link to the google docs document that the class produced which served as a catalyst for survey questions and the subsequent data that provides the data and statements for the signs. While it is a fascinating ethnography, it is also very much a call to action directed at those with “the power to help change the current environment of higher education”. Taking that charge to heart, I’m curious what you think are the take-aways are from this video to inform our work as student affairs practitioners? There are realities of the educational environment that work against student success, but there are strategies that students can learn to help mitigate the challenges. These strategies are the heart of many educational transactions I have with students.

Kerry, I’m not sure how this comment went unanswered for so long, but now that a lot of the issues brought up in this video are back on my radar screen I thought it best to respond. I’ve been thinking about these issues because I am embarking on two teaching assignments this fall and I want to make every effort to create a positive learning environment and also help students gain competence in some of those transferable skills I mentioned. I also want to try and keep things in perspective as I teach and recognize/respect the fact that students have complicated lives.

I think the complicated nature of students’ lives is often something I don’t think enough about. I think that it is quite easy to separate students’ experiences into compartments and forget that for the student they are all tied together. If they are having difficulty in class it may be because they aren’t feeling comfortable at the university or because they are having family issues or because they didn’t get enough sleep because of roommate troubles. As a teacher it is important for me to receptive and empathetic to these truths. While I can work with students to create expectations and standards for class participation, academic performance, etc. I must be willing to accept that “real life” will sometimes get in the way and how I handle these situations will be of huge importance to my success as a teacher and student affairs professional.


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