Unlocking Gen Z

September 18, 2020

The following article is from Medium

I have been fortunate to have taught across the lifespan. I have been a college professor as well as an elementary, middle, and high school teacher. I have experienced Gen Z from the oldest to the youngest and have always known they would be a defining generation. I recall my first experience interacting with Gen Z. In 2013, after teaching at the university level since 2009, I was hired as a substitute teacher for a group of 6th graders. At the time I was blown away by who these kids were and how they interacted with the world. They were "digital natives", and now constitute 32% of the global population.

The kids were and are multifaceted, caring, active, and intelligent. As a whole, they accept differences and reject divisiveness.

Covid-19 and the year 2020 constitute their "generation-defining moment". The same one millennials found in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Gen X in Y2K, and the baby boomers experienced with the assassination of JFK and MLK Jr. Gen Z has maneuvered through waves of unforeseeable change with certain ease which provides a glimpse into what the future holds in store.

Gen Z and the Pandemic

The recently published Cassandra's Life Interrupted report of 1,000 13–17-year-old respondents aims to uncover this generation's perspective of the post-pandemic world in direct relation to their future. Their results are both enlightening and hopeful.

  • 75% of Gen Zers believes that new careers will be created because of Covid-19
  • 66% agree that Gen Z will more likely work freelance jobs than past generations
  • 73% of Gen Zers disagree that they are lowering their expectations of success in life

Adding to these numbers as per the CIOs Need to Prepare for the Future of Work Today, we know that 91% of Gen Z understand how technology influences their career path and 80% want to work in cutting edge technology. This affinity is visible in their usage of social mediums like TikTok, YouTube, Twitch, and Snapchat with the accelerated creation of robotics and coding programs

Let's be clear, the nickname "digital natives" is apropos. Nielsen provided details on technology in homes and found out 73% of Gen Zers have video game consoles and 78 percent have a tablet in their homes. They are in fact the main consumers of youtube and Netflix and also the main creators of visual media through Tiktok.

Gen Z and Education

Just as the pandemic started the Corporation for Educational Credit Management (ECMC) and VICE Media launched "Question The Quo." This survey involved more than 2,200 students in the United States between the ages of 14 and 18, who were currently in high school.

One of the most important signs of the changes to come in education came from the 80% of kids surveyed that believed moving away from traditional education towards career and technical training, would be just as beneficial. An added benefit for them is that it would do away with the school loan debt since 64% commented that they are concerned about money issues. 46% are expecting companies to start providing formal education to improve the skills they will need in the future. Even more significant is that 80% of the kids surveyed believe that the best careers are offered through professional and technical training programs.

What does this mean? A large portion of Gen Z is no longer dependent on traditional education structures and is exploring learning opportunities in different contexts. In the article Get ready for Generation Z Anne Kingston she differentiates how Gen Z combines the know-how with perfect timing, because, "Global social media combined with crowdsourcing, open-platform education and sharing have given this generation's inventors unprecedented influence." Not only are they inventors and creators, but they stand out as gamers and influencers. Gen Z is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to purchasing and that includes everything from their education to hobbies. They are the true trust figures for their peers in regard to influencer marketing.

Gen Z and Technology

Gen Z is asynchronous with technology. Not only do learn through it but they use it to create and influence. In the Forbes article, Jeff Fromm explains that what matters is no longer the number of followers for Gen Z, but the follower engagement rate since the latter implies an implicit connection and camaraderie.

Gen Z has taken over social channels and they are reinventing how the industries are represented. From the article by Frankie Wallace focused on gaming he details how Gen Z has changed the perception of gamers as a whole and has brought insight and notoriety to a previously misunderstood and stigmatized entertainment source that as is "edging out other forms of media like movies and music."

Education through Gaming

The Gaming Industry is having a tremendous impact on the world, and education has shifted as a result of the pandemic. If there was ever a time for the two worlds to collide, 2020 is it. Kids are at home because of restrictions and looking for connections and experiences. The thousands of people logging in to watch people stream through Twitch, Facebook, and Discord communities are at an all-time high. The question is: How do teachers translate content into gamified experiences that are virtual, structured, and comprehensive?

I don't see gamified learning as something new. It has always been attractive to pedagogical theories and has made its way into every subject imaginable. I clearly remember making up games for my students to learn the preterite or using a Spanish version of Jeopardy to review vocabulary. Now, as a result of the pandemic, there is an urgency around making it happen using more advanced technological mediums.

I recently joined Terminal Two Games as an Outreach Specialist where, from a pedagogical standpoint, they are acing the translation of coding classes for kids into online games that teach programming skills. They are thus reinventing education so that pedagogical systems are gamified and kids don't just practice rote memorization but move through project-based learning to game-based creation.

In the Learn to Code Bundle, there are 12 games that focus on a child's desire for play and video games, connecting each game's "mechanics" to a programming concept. Students find themselves solving problems and tinkering with ideas central to computer science and computational thinking. As games advance to more challenging concepts they eventually include proper "syntax"; having players see, modify, and then write actual code. All these are early stepping stones towards the professional future Gen Z envisions.

Author: Ana-Maria Medina, PhD, professor, Gonzaga University

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