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August 2005

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Julianne Scibetta

Understanding Millennials: Technology and Tutoring

By Julianne Scibetta, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia

Disclaimer: The examples used in this article are based on my knowledge and not meant to be an endorsement of any one product over another; it is not a thorough examination of services provided.

One of the biggest explosions of technology in recent Millennial memory is the iPod. Originally released in October 2001, the iPod has moved into the mainstream gadgetry and with brush-fire speed; in the last year alone, sales of the iPod have increased over 600%. As if being able to access the internet on my cell phone wasn't enough, now I could download this thing called a "podcast" on what used to be a mass-marketed MP3 player turned status symbol. That is, if I was one of the millions of people with an iPod (and I'm not). Yet the iPod is just another piece of technology in an ever-expanding market Millennials are gobbling up and syncing with the rest of their lives, and perhaps may offer the only chance that Millennials get to experience life at random.

The internet revolutionized the way we think, search, buy, communicate, connect. It changes how students search for colleges and understand an institution's priorities. I don't think any of you could argue that it's a powerful tool, but the overabundance of information might inhibit or intimidate users. For instance, if you've ever wanted to know what your house looks like from space, just Google your address. And there's nothing more disappointing than searched for what seemed like a promising website that turns out to have incorrect information; a page last updated more than a just month ago has a quiet sheen of dust from neglect.

In spite of all this, there are simple options available to learning centers to sync-up with students on this emerging front. Software learning "platforms," commonly used by many institutions, are the first of these options.

About the same time as the third-generation iPod - the mini - was released, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article about internet- and intranet-based software universities are developing to personalize their learning and educational needs. These are private, personalized versions of software like Blackboard that are much cheaper with in-house development and maintenance, plus come with limitless customization options. Some universities went so far as to actually offer to sell their software package to other universities. And why not? As progressive customers we're entitled to shop around for the thing that best suits our needs, helps us get the job done quicker and cheaper. I myself have found a common platform like Blackboard useful when hoping to grant students unfettered and unconditional access to information and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere, anytime. The world's greatest city, the internet never sleeps. (Just like some students we know).

Some universities utilize the internet in a way more custom-made for learning centers, with software like AccuTrack; eliminating the exclusivity and enrollment of a "course"-like Blackboard does, any student can set up an appointment, anywhere, anytime. Other software companies go much further and provide universities with a platform for real-live chatrooms adaptable and meant solely for tutoring. Distance and online learning have been steadily growing for some time; learning assistance must then learn to adapt and grow appropriately with them.

Our websites - now stagnant dinosaurs compared to the life brimming in instant messages and chat rooms - should be updated often and contain specific information to help students find resources that they need. Although real-time or online tutoring may be convenient, nothing beats the old standard of the basic informative website - that place you can go to for answers when the offices are closed. Many parents, faculty, and advisors look to the internet for information as well; they deserve to have that information as accurate as possible to be able to offer accurate referrals to their students. Perhaps one day some intrepid student will figure out how to podcast lectures, supplemental instruction, or tutoring sessions that we can have available for downloading from our sites, forcing us to update regularly and clean the cobwebs.

What about cell phones? How can we use those to our advantage, since they have invaded our quiet learning areas with their incessant ringtones? I once read a description of a tutoring program that utilized beepers to beep their tutors, like hospitals beeping their doctors. This metaphor does not quite settle my stomach, as tutors have demands for their own privacy. Instead, a quieter form of this might be to have a staffed e-mail or instant message helpline. With the proper supervision, such a line would operate closer to a homework hotline where students are really stuck on just one item.

As for me and my learning center… We just fought our way into a somewhat larger and more appropriate space. I glance out of my office door and see boxes that have yet to be unpacked; computer monitors, monstrous by the staff's LCD-screen standards, that sit quietly waiting to be plugged in; and a portable white board that in another place and time might have been a SmartBoard. And I wonder quietly to myself, and with you, Reader, by what - and whose - standards am I judging? Will students come regardless of the thickness of the monitors? And, glancing at the crowds I faced during a brief "how to survive college" speech during summer orientation days, the answer is a resounding yes, yes, they will come. iPod or not.


Chronicle article:
Olsen, F., S. Carlson, & D. Foster. "10 Challenges for the Next 10 Years." Chronicle of Higher Education, 50.21. Jan 30, 2004, p B1.

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