Gen Z & What does it mean in your classroom?
Generation Z, the Internet Generation, Digital Natives — these are a few of the names used to describe children born between the mid 1990s and the present. They grew up with computers and the World Wide Web, and they’re comfortable with all kinds of technology, from smart phones to MP3 players to iPads. Most of them conduct their social lives via texting and social media, and spend more time watching YouTube then network television.
The oldest members of Gen Z are now in high school and college. Being part of the most technologically advanced generation in history has provided them with some distinct advantages. They have a positive attitude towards technology and are not afraid to try new things. Because they’re comfortable exploring the Internet, they’re more connected to the world than previous generations. When they’re curious about a subject, they’ll often research it online. They know more about other cultures and are often more tolerant of cultural differences.
One of the most striking characteristics of Gen Z is their ability to multitask. In 2006, TIME called them genM, recognizing their ability to simultaneously talk, listen to music, text, browse the Internet and (sometimes) do homework. They believe they can do it all at the same time, but many mental health experts disagree. The California Teachers Association reports that John Raley of Harvard Medical School has coined the term “acquired attention deficit disorder” to describe the changes to the brain that are being induced by Gen Z’s use of technology, and there does seem to be some consensus among teachers that the attention span of this generation is more limited compared to previous ones.
In addition to attention issues, an over-dependence on technology has brought some other disadvantages to the digital natives of Gen Z. Many teachers find that they expect instant results and constant feedback. They have access to more information than at any other time in history, but they often don’t know how to judge the reliability of information (as evidenced by the popularity of Wikipedia as a research tool). They put too much value on opinion and not enough on facts.
A side effect of technology for many members of Gen Z is that it has caused them to spend more time indoors than previous generations. Parents who want to protect their children often encourage this behavior, but it can lead to troubling results. Currently, one-third of American children are overweight and one-fifth are obese due in part to technology usage replacing physical activity.
Given the opportunities and challenges associated with technology, it may seem daunting to adapt the classroom for Gen Z. Here are a few suggestions for leveraging this generation’s affinity for technology and helping them to overcome its setbacks:
- Use technology’s immediate feedback to motivate students and increase their learning confidence. Computer-based educational games and independent projects can give a broad range of students feelings of empowerment and accomplishment.
- Engage students by planning projects and activities that allow them to collaborate online. Blogging, podcasting and digital media are some of the new tools that allow students to connect with each other and with other students around the world.
- Take advantage of Gen Z’s increased visual learning ability by enhancing lectures with film, PowerPoint presentations and digital images.
- Help students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, especially in their use of technology. Provide instruction on how to find reliable and reputable sources when searching online.
- Train students to focus their attention on a single task that has depth and complexity. Present challenges that require concentrated effort for success.
- Encourage students to set aside time for outdoor physical activity. Instead of just talking about nature and looking at pictures, plan field trips that allow students to experience nature firsthand.
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