Guest Contributor: Dr. Jonathan Duchac, Merrill Lynch Professor of Accounting, Wake Forest University

What do you do to connect with a new generation of students? Below, Dr. Jon Duchac, accounting professor and author, writes about the “ME” Generation — what makes them unique, and how you can reach them. 

It happens every fall. I come back a year older and the students show up the same age, making it a little more difficult to put myself in their shoes. In recent years, however, the “ME Generation” that has descended upon our classrooms is noticeably different than that of past generations. This group has grown up with a perpetual (and almost instantaneous) connection to their peers, helicopter parents hovering overhead, and standardized test scores defining their perception of success; resulting in a group of students with strong self images, an intolerance for criticism, and the perception that everything (including the classroom) can be customized to meet their individual needs.

So, how do we connect with this new type of student, without compromising the standards, rigor, and principles that are necessary for their success? Well, I wish there was a magic bullet, but there isn’t one. I can, however, offer a few ideas that might help improve your classroom experience.

  1. Specifically motivate everything that you do in class. I know it seems ridiculous, but this generation is extremely comfortable challenging authority (i.e. the teacher), and is often convinced that they are better equipped to structure their learning experience than the instructor. By explaining “why” you are requiring them to do something, you have a better chance at getting them to accept and complete the task. This helps them “buy off” on what is happening in the class at times, and I’ve found this approach to be particularly helpful when the underlying task is a bit challenging.
  2. Focus on Fairness. This is the Achilles’ heel of the “ME” generation. None of them wants to be treated unfairly. At times I think that they hold a class on “fairness” in high school to prepare them for college. Use “fairness” as the motivation for what you do and how you do it. They may not like it, but they will resonate with the fairness criteria. This is particularly useful when a student is looking for a customized learning experience. I’ve never gotten any push-back when I denied a request for customization because “It wouldn’t be fair to the other students.”
  3. The “It’s OK to make mistakes” lecture. I have a conversation on the first day of class about the learning process, and how most people learn more from their mistakes than their successes. During this discussion, I let them know that it is OK to get things wrong, and that mistakes are part of the learning process (not an indictment of their character). Lately, I have been using a YouTube video of Andrew Luck at John Gruden’s Quarterback Camp. In the video Gruden critiques a huge mistake that Luck made while a quarterback a Stanford. I then make the connection — “See, he made big mistakes in college, and still went on to be the number one draft pick in the NFL. College is the place to make mistakes — don’t be afraid to make mistakes in college.” This helps reduce student anxiety, but is by no means a “cure all”. I reach back to this discussion several times during the course of the term, to reinforce the idea that it is OK to make mistakes in college.

As with everything in teaching, these are just a few ideas that seem to have worked in my classroom. They are not guaranteed to work, but they might be worth trying. Good luck!

Dr. Jonathan Duchac is the Merrill Lynch and Co. Professor of Accounting and is Director of the Program in Enterprise Risk Management at Wake Forest University. He earned his PhD in accounting from the University of Georgia and currently teaches introductory and advanced courses in financial accounting. He is co-author on several South-Western, Cengage Learning titles, including: Accounting, 25th Edition; Financial Accounting, 13th Edition; Financial & Managerial Accounting, 12th Edition; Corporate Financial Accounting, 12th Edition; and Managerial Accounting, 12th Edition.