We have all heard about the Baby Boomers. We have all heard about the Millennials. But what about Generation Z? You know, those self-absorbed teens who ignore their parents and look at their phones all the time. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Well that is one of the stereotypes I dispel in my book: We Are Generation Z: How Identity, Attitudes, and Perspectives are shaping our Future.
So what defines Generation Z? There is no clear-cut definition, but generations are divided every 15-20 years based on changes in technology and global events that have a significant impact on our lives. Gen Z is loosely defined as beginning in the late 1990s, with the invention of touch-screen smart phones, the economic downturn, global terrorism, and the emphasis on global warming and the environment.
Gen Z’ers, including me, have grown up in a hyperconnected world. Our lives are being influenced by technology in ways that no other generation has experienced. Although there are some negative consequences to the exponential growth of technology, the loss of any skills are compensated by gains achieved with the integration of technology, creativity, and global collaboration.
With the growing mindset that we can accomplish much more at a young age as compared to previous generations, Gen Z is developing a unique perspective on learning, particularly in schools. Gen Z is becoming increasingly aware of the rigid structure in the educational system, and it’s something we are fighting to change.
There are many valid points arguing that the current teaching methods in school are not compatible with Gen Z. For example, teachers are preoccupied by a myriad of district, state, and national test benchmarks. Moreover, their ability to teach toward these testing requirements also became a reflection of the teacher’s job performance. Therefore, teachers are extremely worried about meeting bureaucratic standards and in turn, focus less attention on trying to inspire any true learning. Worst of all, this method of teaching is lessening students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.
Fortunately, I have continued to be intrinsically motivated to learn, like some other students. I am fascinated by new discoveries and by learning what kind of work and reasoning went into making those discoveries. Many of my friends and I spend hours exploring topics that are not taught in school. With ready access to information online, we become our own teachers.
However, as I talked to my classmates, I discovered a general consensus that many high school classes are rigidly structured and inefficient and offer a learning pace designed to follow some sort of mandated timeline. As a result, many teachers do not have time to explore and answer questions on tangential topics that students often ask about.
Another factor affecting Gen Z’s motivation to learn is the manner in which information is conveyed in classrooms. For instance, we believe learning should be more active and engaging, more fluid, more tangential, and more individualized. In a society in which we have grown used to being able to obtain any level of detail on any topic within seconds, we “tune out” when the whiteboard is full of information that only requires rote memorization because our belief is that we will always have access to that information online. To counter this, we need a learning environment that focuses on the most efficient method to obtain the most accurate information, not necessarily in memorizing that information. Growing up in an era where we take high definition, 3-D graphics for granted, we enjoy visual learning, especially tools that we can manipulate. Yet most classrooms are still primarily designed for passive engagement through a whiteboard or an overhead projector.
An interactive learning experience also promotes a more individualized pace. For example, in my junior year of high school, I was introduced to a website called Membean. This site supports an interactive method for students to learn vocabulary that would have been otherwise taught through rote memorization. As an individual learns a particular set of words at his own pace, the subsequent set of words grow more complex. This interactive, learning style was more successful at enriching our vocabulary than the conventional method. With rote memorization, we may have passed the test, but didn’t necessarily incorporate the new vocabulary into our communication or our thoughts. After just a few months of using Membean, many of my peers learned more vocabulary than in the previous two years combined. The use of Membean showcases a broader trend with Gen Z: the use of personal digital technology to study at one’s own pace, while receiving constant feedback.
In order to create life-long, independent learners, teachers must focus on rekindling that inherent desire to learn in their students. Implementing engaging, individually paced, visual learning, will change Gen Z’s current attitude toward learning for the better, as proper education is something Gen Z’ers view as critical.
The best comment about how attitudes toward learning can take a giant leap forward in this generation has been most eloquently stated by Deborah Stipek, dean of Stanford University’s School of Education:
Extensive research shows that students will become more emotionally engaged (and even passionate) if simple principles are followed: if the subject matter is connected to students’ personal lives and interests; if students have opportunities to be actively involved in solving or designing solutions to novel and multidimensional problems, doing experiments, debating the implications of findings, or working collaboratively; if students have multiple opportunities to earn a good grade (by rewriting papers or retaking tests); if attention is drawn to the knowledge and skills that students are developing, not to grades or scores; and if all learning and skill development is celebrated, whatever the level . . . problem- solving skills and critical analysis have become infinitely more important than being able to answer the typical questions given on standardized tests.
This is a subject I explore more deeply in my book, as I am an advocate of educational reform. Since writing my book, I have spoken at middle schools with the goal of rekindling students’ intrinsic love of learning. I hope one day the current, outmoded, teaching styles are revolutionized such that schools will not hinder innate curiosity, but rather spark our natural inquisitiveness.
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Vivek Pandit grew up as a vegetarian Hindu playing football in Texas. His life from the very start felt a little different than most. He saw the world from a more unusual perspective compared to many of his peers. When he started writing his book, he realized that many of his peers also shared experiences that seemed unique to them. That’s when he began to understand that there were a number of “unique” experiences that were actually common to his entire generation, but not at all common to the generations preceding him.
In this way, he came up with the idea of writing a book. He thought of the idea when he realized that no on else had written a book about Generation Z. Vivek believes that Generation Z will bring about the integration of technology, creativity, and global collaboration on a scale that we have not seen before. Writing a book took three years of hard work and persistence. He went through multiple stages of revisions that including rewriting parts of his book and adding/removing entire sections. However, when he saw his first printed copy, it was all worth it!