Connecting Across Generations

Resources to inform and assist instructors who teach across generations

Definition

Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. 
-George Orwell

Who is this generation?

Born 1995 through 2012, the most recent generation to come of age is currently known as “Generation Z” or “iGen.”  Often alphabet letters are used as placeholders until a generational label emerges that is inclusive, neutral enough to be accepted by the generation itself as well as older generations, and descriptive of the culture that the generation matures in.

Jean Twenge, a generational researcher who first used the term iGen in her book about Millennials (Generation Me, 2006), says that the Internet and smartphones have defined the experiences of this group.  Now emerging into adulthood, this group of 74 million Americans make up about 24% of our population. Find out more about the characteristics of your college students by taking a look at “Meet Generation Z: Forget Everything You Learned about Millennials” at www.slideshare.net/sparksandhoney/generation-z-final-june-17

Generations in Context

What we know about Generation Z/ iGens is just beginning to take shape.  To understand their distinctive experiences and what’s unique about them, it’s important to compare this group to previous generations at the same age.  For a look at previous generations, see:  http://www.wmfc.org/uploads/GenerationalDifferencesChart.pdf

Generational context shapes the way people see the world.  What influences the beliefs and perspectives of a generation?  Here’s how generational researcher Jean Twenge views the situation (page 13-14):

I’m often asked questions such as “Why are you blaming the kids? Isn’t it the parents’ fault?” (Or “the Boomers’ fault” or “GenX’ers fault?”) This question makes two false assumptions: first, it assumes that all generational changes are negative; second, it implies that a single cause (such as parenting) can be identified for each change.  Neither is true.  Some generational changes are positive, some are negative, and many are both.  There’s a natural human tendency to classify things as all good or all bad, but with cultural changes, it’s better to see the gray areas and the trade-offs.  Given that many generational differences are positive or at least neutral, using words such as fault and blame doesn’t really make sense….Cultural change has many causes, not just one—it’s not just parents, but technology, media, business, and education working together to create an entire culture that is radically different from the one our parents and grandparents experienced.  Cultures change, and generations change with them; that’s the important point.  It’s not a contest to see which generation is worse (or better); the culture has changed, and we’re all in this together.

Strategies

Action Strategies for Connecting with Generation Z/iGens

In Generation Z Goes to College, authors C. Seemiller and M. Grace suggest three keys to relating to Generation Z (pp.192-194):

  • Make Time for Face Time
    As technology continues to shape higher education environments, more options for virtual connections are emerging (i.e. email, text message, social media).  However, Generation Z values the personal experience of meeting face-to-face.  These in-person interactions are helpful in understanding emotions, reading expressions, and engaging in real life.
  • Be Transparent
    Generation Z students are realistic problem solvers who appreciate honesty and authenticity from those who lead them.  They do not like to be protected from problems or to have them sugar-coated. These students would rather face an issue head-on and be part of the solution. 
  • Understand Family Roles
    Whereas the term helicopter parent became part of the higher education mainstream when Millennials came to college, Generation Z brings with it a different role for parents: co-pilot.  Generation Z students value family input in their decisions and see their parents as their primary role models, which creates a situation in which students make the decisions but seek their parents’ thoughts and advice.

Action Strategies for Designing Learning Environments that Capitalize on Generation Z’s Interests and Strengths

For Generation Z, education is less about the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student and more about helping students make sense of the overabundance of information available to them.  In Generation Z Goes to College, authors C. Seemiller and M. Grace suggest the following instructional strategies (pages 201-208):

  • Align Learning Outcomes with Industry Standards
    If Generation Z feels that they are (1) being priced out of higher education or taking on soaring student loan debt, (2) not being adequately prepare for their careers, and (3) gaining post-college employment with low salaries, this generation may stop enrolling in college.  It is critical to ensure that the learning outcomes of degree programs include both technical and leadership competencies that prepare students to move to a viable career on graduation.
  • Integrate a Socially Conscious Curriculum
    Generation Z students want to learn not just for learning’s sake, but because they can then use that learning to create social change.  To generate interest, engagement, and excitement with this cohort, bring in speakers on particular social issues, use case studies of social issues of interest, and consider designing academic programs to be problem-based learning experiences using social issues as the content. 
  • Help Students Effectively Research
    With nearly infinite amounts of information available to them, how can Generation Z students learn to critically evaluate what information is credible, useful, and appropriate?  Requiring library training or a college course that focuses on effectively researching and properly citing information can help ensure all students have a foundational knowledge of information literacy. 
    Faculty should revisit strategies for effectively researching credible information as it relates to each of their class assignments.  This continued focus accentuates the importance of information literacy as both an academic skill and a life skill.
  • Teach With, Not At
    Generation Z students like being consulted by others, and the classroom is no exception.  These students want to be involved in the learning process with the instructor and not just be recipients of knowledge.  This calls for a more facilitative than authoritative approach to teaching. Instructors who serve as facilitators of learning help students connect their foundational knowledge to applicable situations.  Although lecturing may still have a presence in the classroom, instructors will do well to capitalize on the social learning nature of Generation Z students to learn from each other.
  • Flip Your Classroom
    Generation Z has no difficulty finding the knowledge they need; therefore, a lecture that covers introductory information may not be the most effective pedagogy for these students.  By flipping a classroom, students learn foundational material on their own before class.  They may read an article, watch a video, complete an online module, or do independent research to prepare them for class.  When they come to class, they can participate in discussions and activities that help the apply the content they learned before class.  By combining the intrapersonal learning approach of individual pre-class homework and social learning approach of interactive in-class discussions ad activities, flipped classrooms can provide Generation Z students with a pedagogy that aligns seamlessly with how they prefer to learn.
  • Offer Options for Hybrid Learning
    There are ample options for online learning and digital degrees for Generation Z students, and certainly in-person classes are still in abundance.  But what about something in between?  Institutions can realize cost savings for both instructors and students in meeting less frequently in person.  Some students might want to meet fact-to-face but at the same time drive their own learning more independently.  The concept of hybrid courses opens up the option for students to do some learning on their own through multimedia and then meet periodically in person with the rest of the class, giving them the best of both worlds.
  • Curb Assignment Binging
    If a student can stay up all night to watch a season of a television show, then staying up all night to write a twenty-five-page paper due the next day seems possible.  This is certainly not what an instructor had in mind for intentional learning.  Instead of having a paper due at the end of the semester, make a portion of the paper due each week, even if it is only one page, to serve as a milestone.  This approach allows Generation Z students to slow down the binging mentality….and the result will be higher-quality work. 

Resources

Anatole, E. (2013). Generation Z: Rebels with a cause.  Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2013/05/28/generation-z-rebels-with-a-cause/#105f41369c28.

Kingston,A. (2014). Get ready for Generation Z.  Retrieved from http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/get-ready-for-generation-z/

Knewton. (2015).  The flipped classroom infographic.  Retrieved from http:///www.knewton.com/flipped-classrooom/

Twenge, Jean M. (2017).  iGen: Why Today’s kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us.  

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