What Was Your Best Teaching Insight of the Summer?

Before we go any further, I just want to make clear that I’m really asking! So please take a few moments to share your response to the question in this post’s title.

My best teaching insight this summer came when I was doing research on the generation that comprises most of our students—which is to say Gen Y, Millennials, twenty-somethings, typical college-age students, or whatever you want to call them.

I’m pretty sure I browsed every book that has been written on managing this cohort, as well as numerous articles and blog posts. But in only one of these sources did I see an extended emphasis on a trait that distinguishes this group from the Boomer generation (less so from Gen Xers): these folks grew up playing video games.

I know—not exactly a news flash. But have you really thought about how hours of gaming may have shaped their views of themselves, the workplace, and reality in general?

Management consultants John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade have. In fact, to gauge the extent to which gaming may have influenced young businesspeople’s attitudes and problem-solving strategies, they conducted a study involving a survey of over 2,000 businesspeople and interviews with over 200 people (young adults, parents, psychologists, and others, in addition to business people). The results were published in 2006 in The Kids Are Alright: How the Gamer Generation Is Changing the Workplace.

Here are some of the main gamer attitudes discussed by Beck and Wade, along with my thoughts about how we might adapt our teaching accordingly:

“Everyone can succeed.” If you’re able to play long and hard enough, you can beat almost any game. The rules are clear, the boundaries are definite, and the “hero” can eventually win (otherwise, the game won’t sell). There are even maps and strategy guides to consult. How unlike the workplace this is! Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a young man who complained that his bcomm teacher gave him a B+ when he’d made As in all his hard finance courses. We really need to explain to our students why effective business communication is a whole different “game” from their other courses, which tend to focus on concepts or puzzle-solving rather than on complex, ill-defined problem solving (the kind that involves people).

“You gotta play the odds.” If gamers experience serious setbacks and/or decide they don’t like a game, they just look for another game. Life is not like this, and neither is the workplace! Some serious setbacks actually have lasting consequences, and one cannot always just go find another job (especially if no one in the workplace you just left can be counted on to put in a good word for you). If we can help our students appreciate this, we will boost their professionalism, and they may understand better what is at stake when they communicate on the job.

“Kill bosses, trust strategy guides.” I laughed out loud when I read this one. My son, a Gen Yer, has been beating bosses his whole life in the gaming world . . . but I never actually put this together with the fact that one’s superiors on the job are called “bosses.” According to the literature, Gen Yers tend to treat bosses too much as substitute parents—but they also have a tendency to view bosses (and sometimes their teachers?) as obstacles to be passed on the way to greater success. We need to give our students explicit advice about what bosses are likely to expect and why, and about how to communicate successfully with them.

“Watch the map.” Many video games have on-screen maps that show you where you can go, where you now are, and who’s ahead or behind you. Games also often have meters (colored bars) that indicate how much power you have left, how much power your enemy has left, and so forth. The lesson for us: Our twenty-something students LOVE to know where they stand, and they want a clear path to success. While teaching bcom requires that we give our students decision-making room when they are solving a communication problem, we can try to make the goals and guidelines as clear as possible. Explaining how an assignment builds on the previous ones and providing grading rubrics will also appeal to these students.

“Can’t see it? Ignore it.” In games, there are no completely surprising enemies. And even if they come out at surprising times, they’re beatable. As Beck and Wade say, “That’s quite a contrast to human organizations, whether families, companies, or communities, where you may be weakened or frustrated by decisions from people you can’t confront” (p. xvi). Our students need to be encouraged to do all they can to see the big picture and to try to anticipate all the possible effects of any act of communication.

The book has many, many more insights. I encourage you to browse through it and see if relatively simple changes in your teaching will enhance your younger students’ learning and attitudes.

Now it’s your turn. What new insight are you taking advantage of in this new school year?

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