26Aug13 - The Millennials' Backpacks

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August 26, 2013

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Four students with backpacks walking across a field

The Millennials' Backpacks

They started appearing in Wal-mart and Kohls just after the 4th of July. You couldn't miss the displays of colorful backpacks with their Back To School sale signs. For many students, each transition to a new academic environment brings the need for a new backpack. There will be first-year students on the UW-Platteville campus next week, indeed, sporting new backpacks. The backpack is the college student's office. It contains the tools of the trade.

As the first day of class draws near, I thought back to my first day as a freshman in the fall of 1982. I did not even have a backpack. They weren't yet the norm. I do remember walking to class with a textbook, a brand new spiral notebook, and a couple of pencils. The textbooks were heavy, and instead of carrying all of them at one time, I would strategically figure out how I could get back to my dorm room and switch books at some point during the day. I also remember taking my shiny new Texas Instruments graphing calculator to math class. The calculator and a Smith-Corona typewriter on my dorm room desk were really the only personal technology that those of us on the Baby Boomer/Generation X divide used in college. 

Times have changed.

The students of the Millennial generation carry a lot more technology in their pack of learning tools. Laptops connected to the ubiquitous campus WiFi provide students with research tools that eclipsed the possibilities imagined by many students of past generations. Today, by simply honing the ability to use the Google search tool, no question need go unanswered. By the way, this article on effective Google searching must be bookmarked.

Today's first-year college students often have more than a laptop in their backpacks. And, quite often they aren't even reaching deep into the bag for that laptop because the phone in the front pocket is the ultimate tech tool. It's a computer, calculator, information and communication device. Many students will spend more time with a smartphone in their hand than a writing tool - and that's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just different. 

Students are accustomed to setting the alarm clock on their phone to get up in time for class. They check the calendar on their phone to see what room English Comp is meeting in. They write their assignments down on an electronic notebook or to-do list. They draft their papers directly in a word-processing program. No more scratching ideas out on a legal pad. Our students truly operate in a paper-less society.

The campus learning management system Desire2Learn fits the digital world in which students maneuver. A quick check of the Desire2Learn course page can give them all they need to know to prepare for tomorrow's class. All UW-Platteville classes have a course shell in Desire2Learn which has been populated with the Fall 2013 student roster. When students look at their Desire2Learn menu they see ALL of their course shells...even if the instructor is not using Desire2Learn yet

A quick survey of almost any group of students on campus will find that these tech-savvy learners would like to see each of their instructors use Desire2Learn to share course documents, present assignment due dates, publish grades, and many other of the great teaching and learning features in this course management system. This generation of students uses technology for information-seeking and communication more fluently than generations past. Instructors can leverage this and help these students better use the tools in their backpacks for learning and other academic endeavors. 

If yours is one of those blank course shells, give us a call at ICET (608.342.1792) or send an email (icet@uwplatt.edu). We'll help you set up your Desire2Learn course page to better connect and take advantage of the technology in the Millennials' backpacks.

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