Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Here Comes Generation Z

By Leslie Johnson

Guess who arrived on the LCC campus this fall? Generation Z, that’s who!

Born roughly between 1998 and 2004, these nearly 70 million young people will never know a time when the Internet didn’t exist. The University of Cincinnati worked with a marketing research firm to create a “culture scan” of this generation to help inform college decision making. What they learned can also help us reach these students as they enter Lansing Community College.

According to Autumn Utley, who led the research team, these upcoming students are not only more diverse and globally aware than previous generations, they are also “independent, passionate, and take an active role in their education.” In fact, when surveyed 72% of Gen Z students said they think colleges should allow them to design their own educational program. They also feel strongly that colleges should offer real-world experience beyond coursework and exams.

As teachers then, we should be seeking ways for students to actively participate in the community to help these students apply what they’re learning in our course for their future employment. If you’re looking for some inspiration on how to connect these students to the community, you might want to watch Doug Klein’s 2016 StarTalk on how he involves his students in the world outside of LCC.

We might think that these students are always connected since they have grown up in the age of the Internet and smartphones. And, they are indeed highly connected. On average, most of them use five different electronic devices every day. Approximately 70% of them watch more than two hours of YouTube content per day. (By the way, they rarely watch broadcast television, nor do they really understand what a newspaper is. Instead, they look to social media to receive their breaking news.)

As a result, the UC report noted that Gen Z considers “technology an extension of self—their source of entertainment, education, and most importantly, their way of gathering, sharing and interpreting information.” As educators, we should remember that they have become the “curation generation.” In other words, since they like to collect and share information, they are developing the ‘neuroplasticity’ to “filter and process enormous amounts of information, efficiently and with purpose.” It is going to become our job, as faculty, to help students navigate out of the echo chamber that social media can create and become good digital citizens.

However, Gen Z also has lots of surprises for us. According to the University of Cincinnati research, 85% of them actually prefer face-to-face time with their friends over electronic interaction. The members of Gen Z also read more books than those older 18 and older—and they read mostly print books. So, while they will definitely want many aspects of their learning experience to be “open and connected” like their experiences with the Internet, they also highly value a human connection with their teacher and they understand the importance of printed and hand-written text.

Finally, Gen Z tends to think of themselves as “hacktivists,” someone who disrupts the system in order to facilitate positive change. In other words, they want to solve personal and social problems. Therefore, including a service learning component in a course is also a good way of reaching these students.
If you have suggestions for blog posts or if you would like to discuss Gen Z, email Leslie Johnson (, or stop by the Center for Teaching Excellence, TLC 324.