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Engaging millennial students in today’s counseling classroom

Jeannine R. Studer & Blanche O’Bannon March 1, 2012

Today’s counseling students bring a unique array of characteristics and perspectives not previously seen in our classrooms. For instance, it is not uncommon for students to approach classroom assignments through technological means rather than by engaging in thoughtful dialogue. Counselor educators have a responsibility to learn about these students and to adapt pedagogical approaches to reach these learners without compromising classroom rigor or standards. Although making predictions and drawing conclusions about any generation is difficult because of the inevitable variations within groups, generational generalities assist in understanding change, continuity and behaviors.

The millennial generation, also known as Generation NeXt, Generation Y, the Net Generation, Echo Boomers, DotNets or Generation Me, consists of individuals born between approximately 1982 and 2002. Students from this generation first appeared on postsecondary campuses at the turn of the century, and their attendance will continue beyond 2020. Millennials are the largest, most diverse cohort in history. They are characterized as having a sense of entitlement and, in comparison with previous generations, having more chronic diseases, symptoms of major depressive disorder and symptoms associated with psychopathology. Because of these characteristics, as well as other characteristics not identified here, the classroom milieu has changed. Therefore, it is incumbent on educators to adapt instructional pedagogy to engage this generation of learners, while also balancing the needs of students from previous generations who are enrolled in the same classroom with millennials.

Teaching considerations

Instructors shortchange students when they do not hold them to standards and/or do not take the time to understand them and their learning needs. Many millennials have a consumer-focused approach to education in which a passing grade is expected in exchange for paying tuition, a belief that it is acceptable to demand a higher grade when an unsatisfactory mark is received and an expectation of receiving a high mark solely for handing in an assignment, regardless of its quality. In addition, these students generally presume that instructors will understand when they miss a class for personal reasons.

With instant access to information through the Internet, texting and email, many in this generation expect immediate communication and instantaneous feedback from their professors. As a result, it is not uncommon for today’s professors to feel as if they are television show hosts who need to entertain and acknowledge every opinion offered rather than provide a forum for intellectual inquiry. Many millennials have little patience for lectures, traditional classroom structures and assessment strategies. Instead, they prefer to learn through experimentation and active participation in student-oriented assignments. If these students must hear a lecture, they respond best to those that are supplemented with pictures and other graphics or brief videos. Therefore, instruction is received better if it is chunked in smaller segments and augmented with media.

With the availability of numerous technological tools and the infusion of new advances, millennials view learning as a dynamic, active process in which information can be obtained whenever and however it is needed. As millennials continue to upgrade their technology tools, their expectation is that their instructors and institutions will do the same. Yet, the use of technology in the classroom is a challenge for instructors who still teach in the same manner as they did a decade ago. When considering technology in teaching, instructors must consider both the advantages and disadvantages of the plethora of online tools that can accommodate the experiential and participatory learning needs of millennials. Web 2.0 tools have brought powerful resources to the classroom that appeal to the learning styles of millennials as well as to students of other generations.

Web 2.0 toolbox for counseling course work

Web 2.0 tools allow anyone with a computer, Internet access and browser software to use various web-based software applications for free. These new tools allow students and teachers to create, communicate and share information online. There is no shortage of these tools, which are increasing in number at a staggering rate. Several are particularly useful to the counseling education curriculum. In addition, they appeal to millennial students and connect older generations to new learning strategies.

Productivity tools

  • Functions: Word processing presentations, spreadsheets, surveys, drawing
  • Software titles/services: Google Documents (google.com), Zoho (zoho.com)
  • Ideas for the counseling classroom: Productivity tools can be used for teaching the many concepts to students that counselor educators deem essential. The benefits of using Web 2.0 productivity apps include having the option to store the files on the web and to share and collaborate with others without email.

Blogs

  • Function: Online journal
  • Software titles/services: Google Blogger (blogger.com), WordPress (wordpress.org)
  • Ideas for the counseling classroom: Blogs can be used for reflective practice during course work or for writing about topics of interest to counselors. Blogs on topics such as eating disorders and drug addition can be used in counselor education or by practitioners for educational purposes.

Wikis

  • Function: Websites used for collaborative research and writing assignments
  • Software titles/services: PBWorks (pbworks.com), Wikispaces (wikispaces.com)
  • Ideas for the counseling classroom: Wikis can be used to allow students to collaboratively create websites on topics covered in the counseling curriculum, including eating disorders, drug abuse or conflict resolution.

Social bookmarking

  • Function: Tool to search, organize, store, manage and share bookmarks online
  • Software titles/services: Delicious (delicious.com), Diigo (diigo.com)
  • Ideas for the counseling classroom: Social bookmarking allows students and/or professors to create and share sets of bookmarks on topics in counseling.

Podcasts

  • Function: Audio or audio/video files that are accessible online
  • Software titles/services: American Counseling Association podcast series (counseling.org/Counselors/TP/
  • PodcastsHome/CT2.aspx)
  • Ideas for the counseling classroom: Podcasts exist on many topics in the counseling curriculum. Podcast directories offer podcasts by topic. ACA has a podcast directory with many podcasts for members. Counselors, counselor educators and counseling students can create podcasts on various topics as well.

Video sharing

  • Function: Video files that are accessible online
  • Software titles/services: YouTube (youtube.com), Teacher Tube (teachertube.com)
  • Ideas for the counseling classroom: The use of video recordings is a central pedagogical tool in counseling. Videos of role plays can be placed on YouTube and accessed by the instructor for assessment. A huge collection of videos on drug abuse, eating disorders, relationship topics, narcissism and other topics are available for download.

Today’s counselor educators have a greater array of choices than ever before to clarify and demonstrate counseling concepts. Introducing different types of media to counseling students is one method in which we can engage the millennial generation while still appealing to students from earlier generations. Other strategies for working with these students include personal and professional awareness activities, collaboration, and mentoring and supervision.

Personal and professional awareness activities

Counselor educators have an obligation to provide feedback to students and to direct them to appropriate assistance when a professional or personal impairment is perceived. Furthermore, counselor educators can provide exercises and strategies to assist students in self-analyzing their own learning and in assessing who they are as a person and a professional. In part due to standardized examinations mandated by No Child Left Behind, many millennials have honed the skill of rote memorization to the detriment of their critical thinking skills and self-reflection. Because millennials grew up with scheduled activities and continual supervision, they desire specific directions and expectations. Among the useful strategies to use with these students include breaking goals and student outcomes into small steps, offering resources and information that assist in meeting expectations and providing rubrics.

Collaboration

Counselors-in-training may gain a greater awareness of self and others through collaborative learning environments. Yet, it is unclear how communication using the Internet influences social networking with this generation. The Internet tends to increase communication ease and the ability to discuss personal issues, but fostering face-to-face interpersonal relationships seems to be a more difficult skill for many millennials to perfect. Placing students in groups where they can share knowledge and act as resources for one another creates a positive environment that contributes to interpersonal connectedness and facilitates creativity and empathy.

Mentoring and supervision

Many variables are considered when pairing supervisees with appropriate supervisors. Generational differences should be among these considerations. For instance, baby boomers, who generally possess strong work ethics, might have difficulty supervising millennial supervisees, who generally exhibit more relaxed attitudes toward work. Furthermore, because empathy is often lacking among many millennials, supervisors might need to model empathic behaviors to vicariously teach compassion. In addition to the classroom considerations discussed previously, counselor educators can adapt several strategies for assisting in classroom transformation. These include:

  • Introducing course syllabi as contracts that are reviewed on the first day of class so students can ask questions regarding course expectations
  • Providing time for formative evaluative feedback during midterm to detect strategies that are not working and to model openness to student feedback
  • Taking opportunities to get to know students personally
  • Keeping the focus on education without diluting the information
  • Outlining and monitoring rules, policies and procedures
  • Stressing personal accountability with feedback that is layered (for instance, make a positive statement, a statement regarding an area that needs improvement and then another positive statement)
  • Teaching students that the counseling process takes time and that results are not immediate

Conclusion

The millennial generation is influenced by technology more than any other generation of learners, so counselor educators must walk a fine line to simultaneously meet the needs of the technologically savvy millennials and those who do not have these technological skills. Counselor educators have a responsibility to reflect on their individual teaching styles and how their particular pedagogical methods facilitate learning, reflecting and relating in the classroom.

Jeannine R. Studer is a professor of counselor education and the school counseling program coordinator in the Department of Educational Psychology and Counseling at the University of Tennessee. Contact her at jstuder@utk.edu.

Blanche O’Bannon is an associate professor in the Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education at the University of Tennessee.

Letters to the editor: ct@counseling.org.

5 Comments

  1. Ivonne Tovar

    Hi,
    I am a Counseling student and according to the essay above, I am also a millenial. While most of the description fits me, I found it confrontational but true. However, I produce my best work under the lead of a person with a very strong work ethic (like that of baby boomers), a oonfident personality but yet willing to learn something new from a millennial. Don’t matter what you call it, it is what it is.

    Thanks for writing such thought-evoking article. : )

    Reply
  2. Joyce

    Counseling is a challenging work it only requires confidence, commitment,love,sacrifice because its not easy to deal with strangers.

    Reply
    1. Michele Alequin

      I am a counseling student and a English professor; therefore, I relate well to this article. In my classrooms most millennial students display the attitude of entitlement. I also intern at a university in which I experience the same attitude with some of my peers who are of that generation. Therefore, this article was very enlightening and verified my assessments of the issues with millennial students.

  3. VANITA CHENGAPPA

    Very interesting and thought provoking article- every teacher must read.
    I am a school educator

    Reply

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