Addressing the Millennial Student in Undergraduate Chemistry

Millennial Student

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The e-book “Addressing the Millennial Student in Undergraduate Chemistry” is a survey of pedagogies and solutions for effectively communicating with millennial students, without alienating other generations. The millennial student is described as diverse, self-expressive and having an intimate (if sometimes distracting) relationship with technology. They are sometimes uninterested in the whole picture, preferring to think locally. A large portion of this generation needs to be shown how a lesson will benefit them before they’ll engage, the book argues.

The book surveys multiple chemistry sub-disciplines, including specific strategies as well as generic pedagogies for engaging students characterized as “millennials” — those born after 1981. Many of the strategies summarized in this book are accompanied by success stories from faculty who have used them, as well as problems with implementation and student feedback in some cases. The pedagogies and solutions include group work, peer lead team learning, scaffolded scientific writing, undergraduate research and process-oriented guided inquiry learning. Discipline-specific methodologies included new experiments using computational methods in physical chemistry, inorganic lecture activities, and literature.

“Addressing the Millennial Student in Undergraduate Chemistry” does not provide solutions to every problem faced by chemistry faculty in teaching millennial students, but it does provide the faculty perspective on a variety of topics. The authors describe new computational experiments relying on molecular orbital calculations to allow students to think about the data. Using the computational results along with application questions, students were led to many ‘ah ha’ moments in their learning process. One challenge they faced was students’ frustration with learning computational software and presentation of results.

The book discusses implementing peer-led team learning, along with a specific course to train the peer leaders, and problems faced, including faculty and administration buy-in. Some discussions not tied to specific disciplines included using 3D printing to demonstrate molecular structure, undergraduate research as a high-impact method to engage students and various communication methods along with their pros and cons. Not only were methods discussed for specific courses presented from the perspective of faculty using them, but all can be applied in some form to any sub-discipline.

“Addressing the Millennial Student in Undergraduate Chemistry” enriches chemistry teaching methods by providing engagement strategies directly from faculty who use them. Though the book is not an analysis of millennials, it provides some insight into these students. The book addresses the personality of millennial students and how they present a challenge to traditional teaching methods, but its lessons are applicable to the other generations of students as well. The focus is on engaging students by giving them a rationale for their assignments, incorporating technology responsibly and using their need for personal interactions to facilitate group work.

This book is written for the chemistry faculty audiences from large institutions to smaller ones. It is valuable to faculty who are quite familiar with chemical education pedagogies, as well as those looking for new tools. The editors (Gretchen E. Potts and Christopher R. Dockery) present  a breath of pedagogies and sub-disciplines that collectively tackle the majority of the undergraduate chemistry curriculum. Thorough references are provided to give readers further information and background. This book is a must-read for new and more senior faculty members struggling to connect with and engage the millennial student.