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Northwest Missouri State University


Sue Myllykangas

Sue Myllykangas

Dr.Sue Myllykangas

Health, Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance

Engaging Students Through Media

"Flash bulb" memories are intense, emotionally charged events we all share.  These are events in our personal history that leave a lasting impact.  Dr. Sue Myllykangas uses these "flash bulb" memories to construct a unique curriculum for her Leisure and Aging course.  The first baby boomer turns 65 next year in January 2011.  Our students will be working with older adults as they move into their chosen careers.  Currently, they have a 1 in 5 chance of working with someone age 65 or older.  In 2030 that ratio will change to a 1 in 8 chance!  It is difficult to engage students in learning about aging and older adults.  Research has shown that students resist working with older adults because of two factors; comfort and competency.  Students know what it is like to be young, but feel unprepared to work with people older than them.  So, how can you help students prepare for the future and learn to better relate to older adults?  Teach in a comfortable medium while increasing their feelings of competency through comprehension of information related to aging.

Dr. Myllykangas realizes that students connect well with media and that it is an excellent way to engage students in relating to older adults.  To understand leisure behavior you need to understand what older adults lived through, so she has her students research each decade and the events that happened in those decades.  Politics, news, family, fashion, food, sports, transportation, technology, and leisure are all areas covered in their weekly research.  Hollywood movies that reflect each decade are then used to immerse students in the historical culture of the decade and give them a personal glimpse into what it might have been like to live through that decade themselves.  Students use their research information to reflect on the movie and evaluate whether or not Hollywood stayed true to the era.  Discussions about what people did for leisure during each decade help students to critically think about why older adults act like they do and hold the beliefs they do today.  Students cannot understand a person's leisure behavior unless they understand how those individuals lived and grew up.

Dr. Myllykangas interweaves research information into the discussions and lectures to support what the students have learned through their research and movie analysis.  Learning why Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Older American's Act, and Senior Centers were created makes more sense when placed in the context of each decade.  It is not just boring information that happened in the past, but information that makes sense because the students have a context in which to understand it.  Dr. Myllykangas teaches her students to program leisure activities for what older adults need but also for what they want based on their experiences growing up.  By offering programs in this manner participants will attend because they want to, not just because they need to.  This in turn keeps them coming back and makes the programs successful.  The final project for these Leisure and Aging students is an intergenerational class session where students invite representatives from each decade to come and "leisure" with them.  Last year students set up stations with games and activities common to each decade.  Community members attended and students were able to sit and play games while discussing first-hand what life and leisure was like when they were growing up.  This interaction acts as a kind of test of the students newly acquired feelings of comfort and competency.  Participants from last year said that they loved the evening and enjoyed interacting with the students.  At the end of the course, students end up with a lot of practical ideas on planning successful programs and have reported feeling much more prepared to work with an aging American public. 

If you are interested in learning more about Dr.Myllykangas has used media in teaching, contact her my e-mail at SUSANM@numissourri.edu or by office phone at extension 1377.