Generation Z is upon us
Integrating Technology into the Modern Classroom – Generation Z is upon us. Which generation are you? Are you concerned that the next generation will not value what you worked and lived for? Well, get ready for it, because Generation Z is upon us. They are the true digital natives. Gen Z (born roughly between 1995 and 2010) will turn 20 this year.
Largely still growing kids and adolescents, Gen Z members are leaning toward being more self-reliant, and goal-oriented. The big difference between Gen Z and Millennials is that they will not remember a time before social media.
As more of the digital generation starts to enter into higher education, they present a whole new dilemma for the traditional educator at both the colleges and university levels. Not every higher education instructors will have the same level of expertise when dealing with technology. Expectations often are high for both the instructor’s ability, as well as the student’s willingness to engage. A breakdown can occur when the technological divide between instructor, student, and delivery methods are not in synch with one another. One of the greatest barriers to technology in the classroom is not technology, but the barriers created by the instructors.
Technology is not new, yet even today, recent graduates of teaching programs lack relevant knowledge, skill sets, and critical thinking abilities necessary to be effective instructors. While there are many pre-service teacher preparation programs that address the instructional technology barriers, many programs fail to provide pre-teachers with the necessary critical thinking abilities, relevant background knowledge and skills they will need to be successful. The traditional model of teaching has changed with the advent of technology, and with it – has created shortcomings for new teachers.
Noting that the major problem with incorporating technology into the classroom falls on the shoulders of the instructors, tenured professors, who do not wish to engage in adapting to new technology. The attitude benefits the digital student very little. These instructors may challenge change, and/or decide not to engage, or participate only in a minimal level . Instructors who do engage in providing their students with a media-rich learning environment, or at least supplement a portion of the delivery method using technology, in effect help students to learn to better collaborate and network in areas they may not have been able to do in a traditional classroom setting.
Recent studies and newer instructional methods are helping pre-teachers develop the skills they will need to successfully bridge the technological gap in the classroom. These new approaches to technology are known as the Learning Environments Approaching Professional Situation [LEAPS] model. LEAPS are a model for professional teacher preparation in technology.
The new generation of digital learners will demand a more participatory and experimental learning environment. These students are not comfortable with, nor are they willing to learn sequentially, but prefer a media enriched learning environment. Traditional colleges and universities are already feeling the competitive repercussions from other institutions that seek to draw new freshmen students to their institutions by offering students the golden carrot ‘technologically seeped media rich courses’.
Technology can act as a supplement to traditional classes or function as the main delivery method for instruction. According to a study done by Thirunarayanan and Perez-Prado “there is a growing pedagogy of online and distance learning and more evidence that “good teaching is good teaching” regardless of the delivery mechanism”. So instructors should not fear technology, but embrace it as another classroom tool.
Curriculums, the new traditional classroom
Adults tend to think of a classroom with walls, desks, and a teacher who will lead them in a face-to-face learning environment. With the increase of technology in the classroom, the definition of a traditional classroom is evolving. Teachers have more access to online teaching tools and grading books that help to free up their time for more core curriculum planning. The modern curriculum is being re-designed to incorporate further blended learning environments for the student. With the use of online technology, instructors can offer a variety of instructional methods for learning. One day a student may be in the classroom listening to a lecture, the next day they may out in the field, doing surveys or working on experiments. The next day they may be doing course work online. These new blended environments give both the instructor and the student opportunity to utilize the best of many educational methods – traditional, online, and self-directed learning.
Checking the Dip Stick
It is important that instructors measure where their students are, learning wise. Instructors need to have well-developed goals along with measurable objectives. When dealing with distant education students, it isn’t always as easy to measure where your students are, because you are not physically in the classroom with them. Helpful verbal cues and/or body language are missing. Having a digital communication system that is dependable, well organized, and allows for both student and instructor feedback, should be a top priority for instructional designers. When teaching to the distant sites, instructors should also attempt to call on students to engage them in the discussion. Visiting teaching facilities when the circumstances allow, is also a positive for students. Getting to know your online student helps to motivate and encourage them to want to engage in active discussion.
Formative Assessments need to be done in order to maintain a level of student self-efficacy. As well it helps with planning and development of future curriculum. Assessments need to be measurable to be effective. When doing assessments or evaluations with distance learners it is good to include student questioning in your assessments. It is the learner’s feedback that will help the instructor to evaluate his or her planning needs for future classes.
Curiosity, Interest, and Imagination
The new generation of learners has a curiosity toward learning that motivates them to stay interested and cognitively engaged to learn. New media technologies provide a mechanism for curiosity, that helps keep learners interested in researching information and building on ideas; or searching out new concept that inspire them. Learners engage in active learning by researching their interests.
Social media is another realm where engagement is often spurred by another user’s comments or interests. Facebook, Twitter, and other similar blogs are all sources of social media that have a large following of digital learners. Here they are more likely to set up networks of people and collaborate on topics that their individual online groups like to discuss.
Once individuals enter their “Zone of Curiosity”, a term devised by H.I. Day, way back in 1992. The value that is gained by them is measured in their successfully finding the resources to answer their inquiry. If they are unable to find those resources online, then they will often seek out collaborators to help find those answers. These individual learners are innovative in their exploration for information. When information isn’t obtainable they can become frustrated and their interest will diminish until their curiosity is kindled once again.
The educational tools and digital models that teachers and instructional designers develop needs to help students stay connected or rekindle that ‘Zone of Curiosity’. But who are these new digital learners? How are they different than their traditional cohorts? Are they more technologically savvy and deserving of a new system of computer-based models of education?
If we look at the characterizations of these learners we discover two very divergent categories. One is the Digital immigrant, an individual born or raised before the conventional use of digital technology. The other is the digital native, an individual born or raised in a society absorbed in digital technology.
Many have heard the terms, Google generation, net generation, or millennials; these all include the digital natives. These terms are used to describe the importance of new technologies in many of our young people in our colleges and university today. Digital natives were born approximately between 1980 and 2000. The last two decades of young people have virtually grown up around technology and are more apt to have a number of technological devices in their everyday lives.
What is not understood is how these digital natives will develop with the use of technology over time. New digital natives, especially those using the internet may experience a rise in their self-efficacy, but that quickly fades once they determine that the volume of knowledge is beyond their scope. Digital natives are less likely to use the internet as a first source for information and have a lower level of self-efficacy when using the internet. They may have access to more Information communication technology devices (ITC’s) but that doesn’t necessarily equate to a superior knowledge.
Actually, there is very little empirical data to suggest that these young people are different at all when it comes to the use of and ability to process information with the use of technology. This observation discredits the digital native proponent’s view that they are in some way more radically different in their abilities to process information and utilize what they have learned.
Within this same study, it was determined that the digital native did not use the internet more than the digital immigrant. The younger users were more apt to use the internet for social media and entertainment purposes. They were least likely to use the internet for community participation, communication, or research.
Self-efficacy is important, and learners need a positive self-efficacy to be successful. If learners do not view their experience as positive, the outcome for building upon their knowledge base could be affected. How their brains interrupt the learning situation and the outcome is unknown, and deserves more investigation. The proponents of the digital natives might suggest that they are a much more savvy generation of learners, but in fact the opposite may very well hold true.
In a study by Bennet, Maton & Kervin in 2008, they determined that “ the biggest drop in the proportion of Internet users was when users were over 55 years old, which means that the majority of educators and parents of younger children do use the Internet”. This finding makes the digital supporter’s claim seem less reliable, and poses even more questions. What is the real age of a digital native? While they may very well support the idea that the older generations have the capacity to learn technology, it fails in comparison to the findings that digitals natives really are not reaching a level of self-efficacy because of technology.
What is the real age of a digital native?
Digital natives do not yet have the skills necessary to manipulate all the data they will be presented with. Technology poses a cognitive overload problem that takes away from a student’s self-efficacy. If technology is to take deeper root, then models for accumulating data will need to be developed to help student’s better multi-task. Not every student will have prior skill sets and/or cognitive maturity to develop proficiency on their own. Future models will need to be diverse, open-ended, and allow students to progress in an effective and measurable way.
How students learn is just as important as who the educators in this technological age will be. Both student/teacher scenarios need to be evaluated carefully. With all educational models, they need to be interrupted by a larger body of educators, before making any determination of what is the best course of action for individual students, communities and districts, states, and/or our country as a whole.
Baby boomers fall into the digital immigrant category. These individual’s were most likely born between the years 1951 – 1962. While they much more reliant in their ability to process application knowledge, and more apt to go beyond just the summary of any information given. As well, these older digital immigrants or baby boomers were much more apt to participate actively than their non-native counterparts and/or digital natives. Digital natives tend to fair lower than digital immigrants in their ability to apply the knowledge they gained in a meaningful way.
The chronological age of a learner has a lot to do with the success rate of online students. The older the chronological age the more likely they are to be successful with online studies. These older learners generally are more collaborative in the online classes, and seemed to apply what they had learned better than those who are younger. It is a simple matter of locus of control (LOC), a measurement between oneself versus their social reliance. Social reliance is significantly lower for the digital natives.
There is another category of learners, the digital refugee. Basically, this is an older group of individuals ( The Silent Generation) who tend not to remain current with the latest in technological advances. However, they are still able to process what they learn at a higher level than the digital native.
While studies are underway from each side of the digital divide, immigrants and natives – so far everything is leaning away from digital natives as a new class of learners. Meaning they are not more adept in their thinking, and they failed to retain or use the knowledge successfully that they had acquired.
Multi-tasking with the aid of technology could be a negative for the digital natives. The cognitive overload from all the information at their disposal may in fact keep the digital natives from adequately focusing and building on their knowledge base. The older learners have a lifetime of experience and are more apt to be verbally outspoken, and better able to transfer the knowledge they have gained to new tasks and projects.
The role that technology will play in the future of education depends on the research and development of future tools and a clear disclosure of findings from those who will be at the forefront of the next technologically digital wave. Global, governmental, charitable, and commercial networks are emerging that will foster our economic stability as well as provide for our basic defenses. Educational technology will be the catalyst that all of these networks will be connected through. Education has a responsibility into the vision and role that technology will play in the future. Substitutes and resistances are also foreseen, as new pedagogies and models will form and challenge the current structures.
Educators need to adhere to the side of caution when dealing with influences that would break those systems that have lasting and proven success.
Socio – technical developments
As educators in this free country, we need to invest more into exploration of social and cultural contexts that might bring about new technologies and the development of new scenarios leading to better projections of what future cultures may benefit from. Resistance is always in the way of innovation, as is political persuasion, not everything that is presented will be considered when designing the educational models of the future.
On the forefront of education, especially in rural distance education, we now have blended classroom where students split their time in a face-to-face classroom one week, online the next, and in the field doing surveys and/or experiments after that. We need to be diligently watchful for what the new standard might mean for these learning environments.
Today’s digital natives are not as able to retrieve, retain, and reuse the information like the generation before them (the digital immigrants – baby boomers). Centralizing education will not help students in the lower poverty areas to be successful either.
With the current studies surrounding digital natives, it holds that these studies will in fact undermine the proposals asking for a radical change to our education system. It is not to say that we can’t still study and incorporate new technology into our classrooms. It just states what is obvious, that the digital natives are not superior to the non-digital natives or digital immigrants. The digital native is by no means brighter or savvier about education, it has been suggested that they actually lag behind in some areas. They can use e-mail, word processing and blogs (like FB). But the core of education has shifted, not necessarily in their favor.
We now have a second generation of digital natives who not only expect technology in their everyday lives, they demand it. These Google children are able to internally feel self-confident, but they lack an external focus. That external focus is what helps create an innovative society.
Again we have to be careful that we don’t “dummy down an entire society”. It would be better to suggest for the future that we learn to concentrate on innovation and develop more learner-centered pedagogical models that incorporate technology and blended classrooms.
We should strive to kick the politicians out of the hallways of education and out of our individual classrooms as well as our lives. We need and deserve diversity in education. We need to allow our students to become curious and hope that curiosity leads to interest, and interest to engagement.
When you give students the technological tools they need to be successful, while removing some of the rigid constraints that traditional education has imposed on students, you encourage self-learning and promote innovation.
What’s after Gen Z? Will the Millennials and Gen Z really help save us all?
Content creator & writer, blogger, social and digital media advocate. JB was born with a passion for writing and instructional design. JB is the owner of Radcliff Design.