Different generations of students have enrolled and graduated from higher education institutions for many decades. Throughout these decades, educators have been using the same strategies despite what generation is present in their classroom. Schwieger and Ladwig (2018) discuss a newer generation of students, Generation Z, who have unique characteristics and expectations. Individuals from this generation are born between 1996 and 2012. Like millennials, they were raised with technology. However, for Generation Z, technology is part of their everyday life activities. The question is, is it important for us as educators to evaluate our own teaching strategies year by year? Many may not think it is necessary, but educators must be conscious about these new generations who come into the classroom with unique characteristics.
Seemiller and Grace (2016) state that Generation Z consider themselves loyal, thoughtful, compassionate, open-minded, and responsible. Generation Z pursues to make changes in our society. And according to Seemiller and Grace (2016), this is a challenge because they prefer to work alone and occasionally lack creativity. What does this mean for us as higher education professors? We need to help guide Generation Z students in their higher education endeavors.
First, as educators, we sometimes evaluate students through exams and research papers. This type of assessment solely tells us what students have memorized for a specific exam or what they know about a specific topic. Our new generation needs more than that. They need real-life knowledge that can be related to their job area. Generation Z is digital, and we, as professors, have access to the digital world. So, let us become more skilled in different types of devices, programs, and applications that can be integrated into our classes. We have to develop activities that are related to the course, and at the same time are meaningful to our students.
I have been using technology in my English courses. The following are a few ways I utilize different technologies to help engage my students and foster motivation.
Generation Z students are on their cellphones a lot, and most of them use their phones for everyday activities. In this case, my students can use their cellphones to access their class textbooks or manuals online. I also created a blog where they can read articles related to class discussions, post comments, and at the same time, practice reading and writing in English. For example, they can start a discussion based on articles pertinent to class, such as why academic writing is important.
Students also love social media. I used Facebook Live with my students when they listened to a live conference on “Situational Leadership.” After listening to the conference, they wrote a summary and gave their opinion on the topic. This conference provided insight on life and work skills. My students found this way of retaining information relevant to their everyday life and, at the same time, enjoyed learning.
YouTube is another application that helps our students in their learning and can be of great help to both students and professors. Generation Z is very visual and interested in using YouTube for their learning. For example, in my research course, I share links from YouTube for writing a research paper, APA format, and many other topics. These students prefer surfing the web and looking for answers before asking for help. Of course, when using YouTube videos, it is important to carefully select videos that are acceptable for students.
The use of technology is not the only strategy we should re-think. We should also search for other ways of assessment and tools for how we present material to students of Generation Z. The following include some ideas you can start using right away:
- Short online quizzes: Generation Z students prefer to answer short, online exams. In my classes, I upload quizzes on Blackboard and my students answer these short quizzes in the classroom—they use their cellphones to do this.
- Teams/small groups: According to Rothman (2018), Generation Z prefers to work in small groups. When they work in small groups, they can foster more creativity. In my writing course, my students have written excellent narrative paragraphs using themselves as characters of a story. During the process, you can see how much they enjoy this exercise by their enthusiasm as they share their final product with their classmates.
- Active learning activities: Research has identified that Generation Z has a short attention span. One approach that I use is writing a short summary in teams or individually. This activity helps me identify what needs to be reviewed. Also, “One Minute Papers” are very effective for this purpose.
- Games: Games are very effective to review material and allow students to share knowledge. Students can become very active and put forth a lot of concentration on the game. Generation Z students are virtual gamers, and they love game challenges.
- Caring and feedback: This is the most important strategy. When we care about what is happening to our students and their needs, students become more engaged in the classroom. Caring about their progress gives them constant and positive feedback. Although we may correct their papers, we give them feedback on how they can improve, and we motivate them by giving them encouragement. Positive words change people, and we need to do this with our students.
Understanding Generation Z’s unique characteristics will help higher education educators re-think what they are doing in their classrooms. We need to become conscious about our students’ learning needs. Although it may not be possible to work individually with each and every student, we can try to understand their learning needs and implement new ideas. Students’ achievements are our greatest gift!
Bio: Carmen Miranda, EdD, is from Caguas, Puerto Rico and has been an educator since 1974. Caguas has a master’s in English as a second language from the Universidad Ana G. Mendez, with her EdD in curriculum and instruction from Capella University. She has worked with the department of education in Puerto Rico teaching students English as a second language, and is currently teaching English as a second language to undergraduate students at the Unversidad Ana G. Mendez.
Schwieger, D., & Ladwig, C. (2018). Reaching and Retaining the Next Generation: Adapting to the Expectations of Gen Z in the Classroom. Information Systems Education Journal , 16(3), 46–54. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1179303.pdf
Seemiller, C., & Megan, G. (2017). Generation Z: Educating and Engaging the Next Generation of Students . (2017). Sage Journal, 22(3), 21–26. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/abc.21293