Age cohort differences affect our teaching in sometimes unexpected ways

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I’ve been thinking once again about, well, let’s call them age cohort differences.

Eleven years ago, I wrote about how reading time on analog clocks is becoming a lost skill. I doubt that that trend has changed. Perhaps this is why no one has bothered to replace the batteries in my classroom clock. I’d do it myself, but I need a ladder to reach it. Also, when I’m standing in the front of the room, to see the clock, I need to look a little past 90 degrees to my left and into a dark corner to see it. My analog watch works just fine. Also, the students packing up their stuff—based on the time showing on their phones—gives me a five-minute warning.

As I predicted in that analog clock post, clockwise and counterclockwise continue to fade away. In PowerPoint, for example, we now rotate our images 90 degrees left or right. In PDF24, my go-to pdf editor, I can still rotate pages clockwise and counterclockwise, but large icons show the direction of rotation.

A friend who recently had a neurological exam told me that the clock-drawing test is still in use. (See this article, for example). I wonder if discussions are underway for a possible replacement for this task, because the clock is ticking, so to speak, on its utility as a cognitive test.

And then there’s cursive. I wrote about that just this past September. To be clear, I’m not arguing that school children should learn cursive. Rather, for instructors who write in cursive, be aware that your students may not be able to read what you write, no matter how beautiful your Palmer penmanship. Which I never had.

More recently, my wife sent me this 2021 article from Office Watch about young people (and not so young people) wondering what’s up with the design of the save icon that is common in so many computer apps. (Translation: apps = programs.) Some perceive the save icon as a vending machine dispensing a soda. (Visit the article to see the particular icon they’re talking about. Here’s another example.) The save icon, who don’t know, is a leftover graphic. Decades ago, this icon was an excellent way to represent save because it looked like a 3.5 inch floppy disk, a common external storage device. Think usb flashdrives, but with much less storage capacity. Also, they weren’t floppy at all. That was leftover terminology from the 3.5 inch’s predecessors—the 8 inch and the 5.25 inch—which really were floppy. Okay, they were actually more bendy than floppy. Here’s a photo of the 3.5 inch disk from the Computer History Museum. Or email me for photos. The last time I cleaned out my office, I still couldn’t bear to toss my disks—which is different than tossing one’s cookies, but feels eerily similar. I have no way to read these disks, of course. Maybe they’ll come back like vinyl records have. No, I’m not holding my breath. I’m still waiting for the return of 8-tracks. One more sidenote to add to this entire paragraph of side notes. The Internet tells me that in some parts of the world, the 3.5 inch disk was called a stiffy. Share that tidbit at your next cocktail party. No need to credit me. In fact, I’d prefer that you didn’t. And one very last sidenote. Do people still throw cocktail parties? If not, then shouldn’t we change the name of the cocktail party effect?

In addition to analog clocks, Here's one more possible age cohort difference. This one I did not see coming.

In the learning chapter, I have an assignment that asks students to identify the learning principles illustrated in a few different comic strips. I had a student message me about this part of the assignment. She did just fine, but she was not confident that she understood what was happening in the comic strips. She wrote, “I'm just not very familiar with reading comics.”

I grew up reading comic strips in newspapers. I still get a newspaper. Just this morning I walked 100 yards up our driveway in 17 degree temperature (-8 Celsius) to retrieve the paper so that I could read it over breakfast. The more serious news is read with my egg and veggie sausage; sports and comics are read with my English muffin. My digital newsfeed on my tablet always starts with a banana. (Steve Chew: More trivia fodder for NITOP. You’re welcome.)

Growing up, my hometown newspaper probably didn’t have more than a dozen daily comic strips. The big colorful comics spread that came with the Sunday paper was pure joy for my 9-year-old self. I enjoyed the Sunday comics even more if I had new Silly Putty for copying and stretching Snoopy, Woodstock, or whatever other Peanuts characters were featured that week. The newspaper of my new hometown does not have many comic strips, either, so I supplement with having hand-selected comic strips come into my news feed. Silly Putty doesn’t work as well on a tablet.

Since the message from my student who struggled to understand the comic strips, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around not growing up with comic strips. With print newspapers going the way of the paper office memo and printed student assignments, I can see where whole swaths of young people would not have experience with comic strips. While graphic novels are a thing, their long-form design is a different read than a one to four panel comic strip. History departments will need to teach students how to read cursive if their students are going to be able to read original historical documents (that have not been translated into printed text). Perhaps those same departments will need to teach students how to read historical comic strips that are chockful of references to everyday life and politics.

Or maybe my student’s experience is a one off? Maybe she is the only student I’ve had this year who is unfamiliar with reading comic strips. Maybe, but student questions like this feel iceberg-like. If one student is holding her hand up above the water, there are many more students who are keeping their hands below the surface.

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.