Generation Y: teach the teacher?

Dec 06 2011 by Emma Murray Print This Article

Recently, the prestigious website TED broadcasted a talk given by an app developer named Thomas Suarez. Suarez has successfully created apps for iPad, iTouch, and iPhone. His infamous creation, 'Bustin Jieber', inspired by his peers' general frustration with the young pop star, Justin Bieber, is his most popular invention.

As well as his extremely engaging TED presentation, which has been viewed by over 500,000 people online, Suarez also has two published apps and a start-up company under his belt. Thomas Suarez is 12 years old.

So how has a young boy like Suarez learned to be such a proficient programme developer? Although he commends his teachers at school for supporting his technical endeavours, it is clear that school cannot be credited as a source of his knowledge. As he says, "these days, students usually know a little bit more than teachers when it comes to the technology".

Suarez just about makes it into the wave of Generation Y-ers (usually those born between 1980 and 1999); a new breed of student where independent learning is becoming more popular, where access to information is at their fingertips, and where everything must be 'right now'.

Instead of consulting a textbook, or depending on his teachers for knowledge, Suarez taught himself 'the basic' computer languages such as Java, Python, C, and made great use of the iPhone software development kit in order to develop his apps.

Such is Suarez' passion for app development, and his frustration at the lack of technical resources available to him and other students, that he has created an 'App Club' at his school – a place where other kids can go to learn how to create apps, swap ideas, and share in Suarez' experience. He argues that kids these days are no longer satisfied with just playing and using apps – they want to know how to create them too.

Suarez' story is inspiring to say the least, but it also raises the question about the effectiveness of traditional methods of teaching in these fast-paced times. Is book-based learning and classroom teaching relevant to this new, technology-obsessed generation? Or is it more a case of 'teach the teacher?'

Back in 1998, in a paper entitled, 'Designing the Future', the founder of system dynamics, Jay W. Forrester, stated, "During the past century, the frontier of human advancement has been the exploration of science and technology. Science and technology are no longer frontiers, they have receded into the fabric of everyday activity. I believe that we are now embarking on the next great frontier, which will lead to a far better understanding of social and economic systems".

So, if systems and technology are the way forward, how are schools and universities these days helping to 'design the future'? In short, what is in store for Thomas Suarez when he reaches college age?

So far, it looks like the MBA business schools are leading the pack when it comes to catering for the new generation. Some have already started to implement the teaching tools that will cater for the mindset of their new students. By increasing technology in the classroom, applying it to case studies and embracing social media such as Twitter and Facebook, they are devising new teaching methods to engage their technology-savvy pupils.

Others have gone one step further by eradicating the need for face-to-face contact at all, instead teaching through a series of virtual classrooms. In this way, students are equipped with an iPod touch where they can access learning materials, filmed lectures, and trade ideas and initiate discussions with classmates and academics.

So, if technology is taking over from face-to-face contact, and students are being taught virtually, is there still a place for the humble teacher?

Associate Professor of Management, Christopher P. Neck, at Arizona State University states:

"Whether they are Gen Y students or middle aged adults coming back to school, students respond to teachers who are passionate and who really want to be in the classroom. I get very positive reviews from students and it's not due to my mastery of technology.

"Frankly, I'm low tech in the classroom. I teach with a very high energy, fun, and creative style and I'm always trying new things in the class. Students value teachers who care and who make an effort in the classroom to help them reach their potential. Technology is one of a plethora of tools that professors can rely upon to engage students. But it's not the only tool that must be emphasized in the classroom."

Indeed, Neck also warns against the dangers of relying solely on technology as a tool for success:

"Students need to realize that technology is a tool to help them succeed but it is also one of many tools. For example, think of the software, PowerPoint. This software makes it easy for students to present – they are simply reading off the screen. Yet there is no opportunity to use other public speaking skills such as how to address an audience in a persuasive or extemporaneous way.

"The point is technology can be both good and bad: good because it helps students become more efficient; and bad because it can actually stifle creativity and innovation."

Neck also believes that business schools have a duty to use technology to teach their students about the world outside the classroom and the impact of their future decisions on a global level.

He says: "Business schools in the past focused on teaching management students "WHAT to do" and "HOW to do" it. Over the past few years, I have worked with Charles Lattimer, CEO of Cooperative Leadership Institute (CLI) to design new approaches to management curriculum, based on CLI's extensive experience in developing industry-based managers and leaders. The "WHY to do" it approach comes from closing the gap between real world experiences and the classroom."

Neck argues that technology has had the most profound impact in two areas. First, students now have access to the same information as the professors (the "Google Effect) and second, the business world has been transparently interconnected. As a result, there is more focus within management education on helping students make better decisions in a global context.

"In this way, we must continue to evolve management education along the lines of a "WHY" approach," he says.

"It is in this context that passion and purpose, living a well-considered and meaningful life, becomes essential for each student and their capacity to inspire this in others as future managers and leaders."

So, perhaps a balance of technology and traditional methods are required in order to meet the needs of our Gen Y-ers today. Personally, I am still a fan of face-to-face contact and the giant textbooks when it comes to learning – but maybe that's because I am Generation X.

About The Author

Emma Murray
Emma Murray

Emma Murray is a freelance writer with a background in investment banking. She is the author of 'The Unauthorized Guide to Doing Business the Alan Sugar Way' and 'How to Succeed as a Freelancer in Publishing' – a guide for graduates, career-changers and retired professionals.