Generation Y and Academic Teachers

Generation Y are the children of baby boomers, born between 1982 and 1995. Currently these children are taking courses in Universities across the UK. Although the characteristics of Generation Y vary from one region to another, these persons seem to share a few common identifiers. For example, they are all computer literate, they have a facebook page, they read blogs, they know how to manipulate social media to their advantage. They use information found in Google and Wikipedia continuously and uncritically. They indulge in sharing online files, e.g. Napster, whether it is legal or not. Sometimes they are referred to as the Peter Pan Generation, because they delay their rites of passage into adulthood. They seem to adopt a “happy go lucky” attitude, they delay marriage, they do not wish to buy a house. Some of these behaviours are the result of the dot com bust and the recent recession, while others are a new cultural phenomenon that has its roots elsewhere. Once they enter the workforce, these “Trophy Kids” believe that they are entitled to a good salary, a raise and a bonus, even if they do not contribute anything substantial to the business. This situation is attributed to high school culture in the States and UK, where there are always trophies given for participation and effort, but not for results!

The issue is how do we – Academic Teachers – contribute to the formative characteristics of Generation Y?

We certainly have less knowledge than them about Web .02. Most academics are stubbornly not using any form of social media. They do not blog, they do not follow the few academic bloggers online, they refuse to have a twitter account and they update their facebook page only once every three months. Therefore, they are unable to educate their students in that respect. When it comes to Wikipedia, they insist that it is evil incarnate, even if they would occasionally take a quick look to find out who was the fifth wife of Henry the VIII and what is the exact height of mountain Kilimanjaro. On the other hand, academics are very capable of using Google Scholar, JSTOR and other online journals for their own research. Unfortunately, some of the students remain oblivious to these advantages until the very end of their last year (if not beyond).

The “happy go lucky” attitude is not the exclusive characteristic of high school pupils and workers of this nation. We meet “Trophy Kids” everywhere at Universities across the UK. In fact, we breed “Trophy Kids” at an alarming rate. We value their efforts highly, even if the results fall short of our expectations. Each teacher, of course, evaluates differently these efforts. Others give high grades for the fact that a long string of books appear in the bibliography of the essays, others value the appearance of some of these books also in the footnotes, while the majority of teachers are grateful if the students also seem to have read the material. If we have evidence that our “Kids” not only read but also understand the historical, literary, sociological and other works, then they merit nothing less than a “First”! The long term consequences are evident. With the majority of students getting a 2.1, they all have to fight hard for low paid posts in any company that will hire them either on part time or temporary contracts. The ex students soon realise that in these companies participation alone is not valued. Employers are looking for results, progress, growth, increase of their customer basis and innovative approaches. The long awaited work benefits are, therefore, not forthcoming, until the ex students adjust themselves to the new culture. And my question is, how much do we help them as academic teachers to gain not only the skills but also the attitudes that will allow them to survive in the real world?

Economic historian and numismatic consultant


  1. >>Most academics are stubbornly not using any form of social media. They do not blog, they do not follow the few academic bloggers online, they refuse to have a twitter account and they update their facebook page only once every three months.<<

    I wonder if this is still true. I can imagine that it was true 5 years ago (bearing in mind that FB and twitter didn't exist then), but there are far more bloggers, FB-ers, and tweeps in classics and history than I have time to keep up with (unfortunately).

    • I wonder. I am on several discussion lists populated mainly by academics, and find there a persistent demographic that is resistent to social media; especially Twitter (of which they claim not to see the point, which they seem to regard – in conflict with the findings of surveys – as a medium for and used mainly by the young, and which they often describe as a medium for trivial communication – incidating to me that they either have not really looked at it, or have not stuck around long enough to find the good stuff). Now, these are people who are very comfortable with the nearly 20-year-old medium of the e-mail discussion list, so I suspect there does continue to be a persistent portion of academia that is very technophobic, or at least resistent to new forms thereof.

      There is also – I gather from exchanges on the lists – a clear divide between those who see popular culture and media representation and discussion of their subject area as an opportunity to raise awareness and insert a more informed viewpoint; and those who simply decry errors and oversimplifications, but show no sign of a willingness to join the conversation.

      • Wow. “incidating” for “indicating”. Can’t recall having perpetrated a typo like THAT before!

  2. I’ve read similar things about generation Y before, the issue of expecting praise for every little thing, not wanting to buy a house, refusing to participate in ‘growing up’ milestones. I find it (as a 1989 baby) to be a little insulting, but frustratingly accurate for many of my peers.

    At high school (2000-2005 for me) there are award systems in place to encourage students to perform well, get a certain number of merits/stars/stamps/stickers and you get for example a voucher for HMV. Many students would recieve stickers for remembering their books, or even in extreme cases just bringing a pen to class. However, those of us who worked hard, who were in the top classes when subjects were streamed and who were understood to be university candidates one day would be lucky to get a merit for completing homework, it would have to be exceptional to be rewarded. So what happened was the lazy, work-shy students were constantly rewarded for the most trifling things whilst we became jaded with the whole system and as this post shows, I am still bitter!

    Despite the credit crunch and recession I have moved away from home, one day I dream of buying my first house despite being told it is increasingly unlikely I will ever be able to do so! My ‘generation’ is constantly told we are lazy and childish with no respect for our elders or drive to improve ourselves.

    Is it any wonder we’ve taken to the internet to vent our spleen and get one over ‘the man’ by illegally taking on the system one mp3 download at a time? Please be aware that some of us volunteer our time to charity, have dreams and ambitions and know about and use JSTOR, despite the fact it’s a poorly executed website which is often abandoned in favour of googlebooks!

  3. It’s not true to say “they all use computers/social media”. Most of them do, but a few avoid these tools if at all possible and should not be excluded.

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