Context Matters: Understanding Today’s Students and the Implications for Teaching

3736245238_fb8b0ba2b2_mIf we kept a running total of words we use in the Reinert Center, “context” would without a doubt be near the top of the list.  It appears early in conversations with the teachers we work with, through questions such as: “So tell me about your course. Who are your students? What can they typically do coming into your course?  What are their challenges? Who do you want them to be and what do you want them to be able to do when they leave your course?”

Given that so much depends on the context of the learner, we are pleased to announce our theme for the 2014-15 school year, “Teaching Today’s Students.” We hope that the theme will facilitate a campus conversation to help all teachers better understand the mindset, interests, and aptitudes – in a word, context – of all learners.

It is easy to gather demographics about today’s students. The annual Mindset List from Beloit College is an interesting place to start for trivia such as the fact that this incoming class was born the year of the Oklahoma City bombings. The popular media’s view is also easy to summarize: a generation drowning in student debt with fewer job prospects than ever before, glued to technology that shortens their attention span.

Closer to home, the Saint Louis University Fact Book published in Fall 2013 tells us that our students are increasingly international, female and socioeconomically diverse.

So what does all this contextual information mean for the classroom? How many of the generalizations are true for this post-millennial generation of students? What else should we know about these learners? What is your shared context with your students? Which teaching strategies connect these students with the learning in your courses?

We invite you to spend the year with us exploring what it means to “Teach Today’s Students” through a series of conversations, workshops and seminars. The complete schedule is available here.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com.

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