Several months ago, I was surprised to hear the term ‘Gen Z’. I had been bombarded with the term Millennials for so long that I didn’t realize that another generation had snuck up on us. In fact, they were so close that they were actually sitting in my classroom. Yes, the first Gen Zers have actually already started attending college and university, and no one even announced their arrival!
Interestingly, even these students were not really aware of the term Generation Z. I asked a couple of my classes. Few of them had heard the term. No one really knew what it meant.
I started reading up on them, and there’s a fair amount of information out there. I’m going to do a series of blog posts explaining who they are, what their distinguishing characteristics are, how they are different from the ever-present Millennials, and what we (the teachers) need to know about them so as to better serve them. Yes, I said serve. That’s our job. (It’s a good thing.)
Who Are They?
Generation Z was born after 1996. However, when you look up dates, you find all sorts of variances out there. There’s no official Generation Information Center out there, but 1996 is a good beginning date. This group includes everyone born up to 2014. Most of this generation either have only the vaguest recollection of 9-11 or they don’t remember it at all, i.e. 9-11 is history, which I find fascinating.
Generation Z also takes a lot of the progress that most of us can actually remember people fighting for (like the first Black president, gay marriage rights, transgender folks, high powered women politicians) for granted. It’s always been the norm for them. It doesn’t seem special or odd. This makes them more open to ideas that rankle some older folks. (See the above list.)
Here’s a term that’s bandied around a lot: Digital Natives. Of course Millennials are also digital natives. What does that mean? It means that they were given a tablet or a phone to play with to occupy them when they were babies or toddlers. It means that phones and tablets are something they expect. They’ve always been there. They didn’t have to learn it as an adult like most of us did. They learned it like kids learn things, by experimenting and playing with it. This also means that they approach technology in a more intuitive manner than, say, I do.
The fact that they are more comfortable with technology also means that they expect it to be there at all times. Don’t know something? Pick up your phone and look it up. Most of us (Gen X and Baby Boomers) know that as well, but we remember having to go to a book to look it up, or a library (remember those?) or just wondering about until we ran across someone who knew.
My point here is that there’s a connection between them and their phone. It’s their door to the world. When we ask them to put their phones away, we need to understand what that means to them.
On the other hand, we should understand that the phone is an amazing tool that we could use in class. We could use their connection to this device to our advantage! This would, of course, mean that we would need to learn how to do that, but learning is fun, right?
There is so much to learn about these students. I feel fortunate to have them in my class. We are standing on the edge of the future. And they are affecting us much more than we realize. Stay tuned!