This year at spring convocation–today for English, HOORAY and CONGRATULATIONS!–the English department’s own Michael MacDonald will be formally awarded his Distinguished Teacher Award. This year’s winners were asked “to reflect on how they engage millennial learners.” This graduating class would have entered in 2010 and 2011, so they are definitely millennial. In fact, if you consult the Beloit list of things the entering classes of 2010 and 2011 would take for granted (automatic car windows; Nelson Mandela has always been free) you realize just how millennial these students are. Yet Michael’s response has little to do with what makes them different, and more to do with what makes them learners. Read on to find out what he does. –JLH
I have found that the best strategy for engaging millennial students is just knowing the material and presenting it in an accessible but sophisticated manner. In assignments I encourage students to apply the theoretical tools they learn to fields that interest them, whether it be literature, advertising, digital design, politics, or propaganda. This leads to some fascinating essays and projects. I also try to explain, at every turn, why the concepts and problems under study are important. Once students have a sense of what is at stake, they are capable of doing remarkable work.
I often ask students to apply rhetorical principles by designing and creating artefacts, such as advertisements. I find that this exercise gives them a deeper understanding of how theory and practice inform each other.
For the original article, see Waterloo Stories.