Faculty at Eastern Kentucky University are finding ways to connect with students known as Generation Z.
The Gen Z-ers are sometimes referred to as “digital natives.”
On a recent Tuesday at EKU, Tanner Gillispie wearing a plaid shirt and sitting in the third row of Dr. Beth Polin’s class is taking detailed notes for an upcoming exam.
Tanner’s using a pen and notebook, rather than a computer or his phone to take notes because Dr. Polin insists. Tanner says when he’s not in class he’s looking at his phone a lot.
Tanner says, “Outside of the classroom setting I’m probably on my phone, I’d have to say thirty or forty times an hour. Talking about a day I’d say I probably look at my phone seven or eight hundred times.”
The 21-year- old is part of Generation Z, people born from 1995-2010. This generation spans most of an entire educational system.
The Generation Z-ers characterize themselves as loyal, responsible, and determined according to Dr. Corey Seemiller, generational researcher, associate professor at Wright State University, and author of 4 books about Generation Z. Seemiller says, “This is the first generation that has grown up where before they were even born they had a digital footprint.”
She notes that these post-recession kids are financially moderate to conservative about money. She says a vast majority of them are socially liberal and they are “So very supportive of things around the environment, climate change, same –sex marriage.”
In order to educate, and graduate this post millennial generation, Seemiller believes it’s important to understand the characteristics, perspectives, and styles of these students.
Professors at EKU are taking steps to connect with this group who are shaped by technology where all information is a click away.
“You’ve got to have students engaged in the learning and when they’re not engaged with you and they give you these blank stares and just sit there you know you’re not doing something right pedagogically in structuring techniques. “
That’s Dr. Shirely O’Brien, coordinator of the faculty innovator program at EKU, the team making sure faculty members are using best practices in academics. O’Brien says educators have to do self -evaluation and consider a learner’s perspective.
O’Brien says, “I think one of the things personally I’ve changed is my assignments have to be clear. The students have to see the logic behind what I’m doing. They want to have meaning in what they do. They’re really about being, doing, becoming.”
She says faculty have to have technological skills.
EKU Gen Z students Marissa Puckett, Tanner Gillespie, and Madison Lipscomb think the faculty’s efforts are paying off.
Marissa says, “I definitely notice a lot of older professors trying to incorporate more technology.”
Tanner comments, “In one of my classes we do simulations online through the Harvard Business review. It’s like real world applications, real world case scenarios you may be in as a manager one day.”
“Definitely the use of blackboard has helped immensely. Using those non-traditional methods of teaching has paid off” says Madison.
26- year- old EKU student Meghan Wilson is technically a millennial but is herself: altruistic, entrepreneurial, and technologically skilled, all characteristics researchers attribute to Gen Z.
Wilson says, “I think the main thing is a lot of the stereotypes around Gen Z are negative and I think we need to look at the positive.”
There are strengths and weaknesses with every generation says Assistant Professor of Management at EKU, Dr. Beth Polin. She says this generation tends to trade accuracy for speed since they communicate more through social media. Some people see continuous engagement with social media as a weakness. She says, “The way this translates into a strength is: they want to be involved. Every generation has its big world problems that have to be solved. They don’t want to miss out on being part of the solution.”
Polin uses technology in her classroom, such as apps that allow instant polling and online simulations. But she also enlists a few non -negotiables like taking notes with paper and pencil, not a computer: “We know that learning occurs best, the critical thinking, and the debate and the communication that doesn’t always happen across the computer. That happens face to face across a table too.”
20- year-old Madison Lipscomb, executive Vice President of the student body at EKU thinks her generation will impact the world differently than other generations. She calls Generation Z very non-traditional. She says, “I’ve seen emerging leaders within my generation. We’re the ones going out and getting things done. Not saying that the other generations aren’t. We’ll push back from things. Very resilient leaders I think are coming out of our generation. “
The impact of Gen Z on Kentucky moving forward is hard to predict. But according to Amah Martin,epidemiologist with Kentucky's Office of Vital Statistics there are 861.992 Kentuckians born between 1995-2010.
Listen to a clip from the interview with Dr. Corey Seemiller, author of 4 books on Gen Z.
Listen to clips from the interviews with EKU professors Dr. Shirley O'Brien and Dr. Beth Polin.