Thursday, September 12, 2013

An Educator's Challenge: Bridging the culture gap

A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article brought to mind my initial reactions to the first few times a student looked at their iPhone as they delivered a presentation in class. It took some time for me to become comfortable with the fact that the student was simply accessing his notes.

You see, my generation typically relies on paper, lots of paper. Paper for notes, agendas, syllabi, texts, you name it. Oh yeah, and something called a pen. However, many of our incoming students are, shall we say, digital natives (although it’s important to note that digital literacy is not innate) who are hyper-connected and reliant on technology. This is good news, considering that here at Post we are moving towards providing more digital content in all our classes!

New classroom experiences such as these have required some adjustments in my thinking. I found myself wondering, what other areas of opportunity were there for me to explore? I started to consider other potential cultural disconnects between me and my students, and how I could overcome them.

For example, I invest a lot of class time perfecting students’ presentation skills. The benefits are indisputable. We talk about harnessing the power of stage fright, and I rely on examples to drive the point home. One time, I mentioned Barbra Streisand, who was famously nervous in front of her audiences, to my students on campus. I got a lot of blank stares expressing, “Who the heck is Barbra Streisand?” I got the message loud and clear:  Barbara Streisand is well-known among my online adult learners, but not among my younger campus students. Now I use Drake in class (try Googling him).

These types of adjustments manifest themselves throughout my teaching, both online and face-to-face. I always strive to use more relatable examples for references to the application of business concepts and theories – always keeping in mind, that they must be relatable to my students...not me!

The idea of centering teaching experiences on engaging, relatable interaction is not new. But, it is a perpetual challenge that educators face any time a group of students enters the classroom. When we are about to embark on a new MOD and semester at Post (we’re just a week or so away from MOD1 and the fall semester!), I always dig into my toolkit and reflect on suitable teaching strategies and techniques that will enhance the success of my classes and students.

Educators, what practices have you used in your teaching, virtual or face-to-face, to bridge the culture gap between you and your students? What are some common adjustments you’ve had to make in recent years? I’d love to hear others’ experiences below.