The Challenge of Engaging Generation Z

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Here’s a scary thought: 24 percent of teens reported being online “almost all of the time” (Hawkins, 2015, p. 43). What’s even scarier: these are the students that are going to be sitting in your classes, not only today, but for many more years to come! So the situation has changed from trying to figure out how to stop the use of technology (Put those cell phones away!) to asking how to engage students with technology in the classroom.

Don’t get me wrong, I get very irritated when students are messing around online when they are supposed to be listening to every graceful word I speak, but instead of coming down on them for being on their phones, I take it as a professional development opportunity. Back in my good old days I would write countless notes to my friends, and I became very creative in the different ways I could fold said notes. In fact, when I moved out of my parents house after college, I found shoebox after shoebox stuffed full with notes from high school! I did not have a cell phone back then, but I did have technology, even though it looked different than what students bring to class today.

I believe the magic answer to solving technology issues in the classroom has to do with student engagement. In an article by Denise Hawkins (2015), she describes Generation Z and their situation with regards to teaching styles. The following quote from the article relays the change in engagement and teaching style: “I realize that I can no longer be the sage on the stage,” says Kinsella, who like many of his fellow teachers at Osbourn Park, is rethinking traditional lecture styles and their role as ‘all-knowing teachers.’ It’s a new day: Gen Zers indulge in a significant amount of daily screen time (more than 52 percent) and are often looking to be entertained in the classroom.” (Hawkins, p. 45)

Generation Z students are not going to sit back and listen, and calling them out for their disengagement is not going to stop them from engaging with technology. I believe our new role is to engage students in different ways, such as through the use of technology. The use of small groups also helps to keep students engaged. If you are looking for a very interesting read, I would recommend “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess or “Learn Like a Pirate” by Paul Solarz. Reading those books helped me ask myself this very important question: Would I want to be a student in my class? When I first read the books, I was not sure that I would want to be in my class. It took many nights (and years) of reflection to identify areas of weakness in my teaching here at COD, to help me learn from those weaknesses and develop strategies to work against them.

I, like most other teachers, love to talk. Get me talking about educational assessment or grading, and you will probably fall asleep before I’m ready to let you get a word in the conversation! What I now realize is that my role as a college instructor is not to tell students what they need to know but rather to serve as a catalyst. I strive to light the fire in each one of my students and to inspire them to learn. Providing them with the opportunity to engage in learning with technology is just one way to increase student engagement in class overall. I ask myself every single day if I would want to be a student in my class. When I answer no, I examine why, and I look to make changes. It’s all about engagement. So what will you do to engage your students this semester? More importantly, would you want to be a student in your class?

Here are some links to resources that can help you engage students in your classroom with technology:

 

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