Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

August 29, 2011

They watch me as I walk into the classroom on the first day of school.  The boys  fidget. The girls giggle. Some eyes are sparkly and eager. Others, lost and confused.

First-graders? Good guess.  Try  community-college freshmen.  Yes,  during my twenty-some years as an instructor  in a two-year college, I continue to be amazed at how  young and  naive these students  seem .  Other than the size of their clothes, the hair on their bodies, and the pitch of their voices, I’d swear I was teaching the first grade.   The second first grade.

As in the first year of elementary school,  these fledglings also have to  learn a new way of life: buying their own textbooks, developing college-level study skillls, reading hundreds of pages for the next class, and learning to type and  upload essays online.  Still,  despite the tougher  requirements heaped upon this new breed, there are  striking similarities between them and their pint-sized progenitors.

First, although both have to furnish their own school supplies, the Big Chief writing tablets and Ticonderoga pencils with number-two leads have been replaced by iPads,  laptops, and portable hard-drives. Crayolas have stepped aside for highlighters. And  book satchels have taken a back seat to backpacks.   As for lunch pails? Look on Ebay. Today’s kiddos subsist on Cokes and potato chips from the vending machines or burgers from  “Mickey D’s“.

Second, since community colleges  are also commuter colleges,  they  do not offer dormitories. Therefore, many students  still live at home.  Although  privacy policies prohibit parents from becoming  involved,  many of these newbies  still depend on Mom and Dad for emotional and financial  support.

Finally,  both groups are highly distractible.  Surrounded by television, video games, and other electronic gizmos, it is no easier task for an eighteen-year-old to concentrate than it is for an eight-year-old.  Some of my colleagues even pass around a shoe box, at the beginning of class,  into which students must toss their cell phones. Only when class is over are students and  phones reunited. Moreover, to guard against students checking their email and Facebook  during lectures, teachers can  activate  programs that block students’ computers from  the Internet.

Is this new generation of students changing the definition of college, as we’ve come to know it?  I’m turning the floor over to you. What are your observations?



  1. When I returned to school as an adult, I was saddened by the fact that the kids are so plugged into their electronic devices that they miss the opportunity to connect with new people as they walk around campus and hang out at the SUB. I learned more from other students during my first stint of college than I did from my professors and the friends I made then are still some of my best.

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