The field of education is continuously evolving in order to fit students’ needs and fulfill their wants in the best ways. When it comes to Generation Z, however, millennials and other earlier generations are critical of the new technological and instructional changes being brought into the classroom. According to Jack Schneider, author of an article in The Atlantic that analyzes the state of education in America today, “Everything in American education is broken.”
This article then goes on to explain that older generations are less than thrilled with the innovations being introduced in today’s classrooms, most of which now finding themselves filled with students classified as Generation Z. However, it is important to note that change is not always a bad thing, and many new ideas brought into the classroom have left a positive, measurable impact on students. Because students in Generation Z have pushed to incorporate more technology, social interaction, and hands-on learning experiences in the school setting, test scores and other factors that measure student success have increased. It is clear that altering/evolving education to benefit students’ wants and needs has rendered school more impactful and successful than it was in previous generations.
The largest shift in education in recent years has occurred in technology. Classrooms of the past were filled with chalkboards, pens and paper, and heavy, hardcover textbooks. On the contrary, today’s classrooms have taken on a different look: one filled with laptops and projectors and iPads for each student. According to Forbes Magazine, “Technology has always been a fully integrated experience into every part of their [Generation Z’s] lives. And they don’t think education should be any different. They believe they should be able to seamlessly connect academic experiences to personal experiences through these same tools.” Because Generation Z has grown up surrounded by technology, in order for education to effectively reach its members, technology must play an integral role in it.
An example of technology playing an integral role in the classrooms of Generation Z can be seen on the National Center for Education Statistics website. “In 2015, 94 percent of children ages 3 to 18 had a computer at home and 61 percent of children ages 3 to 18 had internet access at home” (NCES). This growing trend of increased internet access in the homes of Gen Zers is also being reflected in the classroom. The National Center for Education Statistics also reported that in all public schools in America in 2008, there was an average number of 189 computers in each school. Generation Z is incorporating technology in the classroom more than any generations before it, and the results are positive. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 87 percent of eighth graders tested in a study that measured proficiency in technology in 2014 “reported figuring out why something was not working in order to fix it outside of their school work.” Utilizing technology in education is benefitting Generation Z and giving its members skills that are useful both in the classroom and beyond.
On top of Gen Z’s growing desire for more technology in education, members of this generation also desire more social interaction in their learning. “Gen Zers tend to embrace social learning environments, where they can be hands-on and directly involved in the learning process” (Kozinsky). This article in Forbes Magazine dives deeply into the benefits of social interaction in learning, and it shows that students in Generation Z prefer practical application over passive learning in a lecture setting. “They [Generation Z] tend to enjoy class discussions and interactive classroom environments over the traditional dissemination teaching method” (Kozinsky). This method of learning is far more conducive to exchanging new ideas and forming independent opinions that are not a direct result of a teacher mindlessly spewing information to students.
This idea of social learning also relates to technology in apps like FaceTime and other social outlets that can connect students from across the country or world. Students can bounce ideas off each other from hundreds of miles away, which broadens the horizon for students and opens the door to new ideas that students may not otherwise have been exposed to inside a brick and mortar classroom without outside influence. The Forbes Magazine article articulates it best: “And the preference towards a collaborative learning environment isn’t just limited to in-person interactions. Instead, Gen Z is completely comfortable with learning alongside other students, even outside of their own school, using digital tools such as Skype and online forums.” Students in Generation Z are open to the idea of crossing cultures, religions, and other barriers in order to share ideas in the bigger picture. Developing a variety of opinions and hearing each opinion due to social interaction creates a generation better-equipped to handle today’s ever-changing thoughts on social media and in politics and beyond.
Perhaps the best way to see the value and importance of social learning to Generation Z is to hear from a member herself. Isabella Bruyere is a member of Generation Z who talks about her point of view on education and why interaction with others in learning is so vital to creating success. “Why don’t we get together with our classmates and use our resources to work through a complex critical thinking question that relates to the real world as well as the subject? That is how you grow minds fit to solve world hunger, and etc. That is how you engage students and cause them to be enthusiastic about a certain subject” (Bruyere). She sees the value in getting together with others in order to broaden horizons and expand collective knowledge.
Her argument comes as a slap in the face to older generations still stuck in the teaching methods of the past. “As I entered high school, and even middle school, everyone around me, teachers…had the mindset of ‘cram cram cram, A’s, A’s A’s.’ They’ll shove useless information into your head as fast as possible, ‘it’s okay if you don’t understand it, just memorize it and get an A on your exam!’ The exam? An hour in a room of no talking, just bubbling in multiple choice answers while bubbles of anxiety grew in your stomach” (Bruyere). Bruyere speaks from her own experience here that mindless lecture with zero social interaction produced negative feelings in her, and it did not help her learning as much as engaging with others did.
While it can be easy to see the benefits of social interaction in Bruyere’s story, older generations do not always agree with the way Gen Z wants to do things. Bruyere identifies later in her article that many of her former teachers who belonged to older generations would yell at her and her classmates and encourage them to compete against each other, rather than help each other learn. Social interaction in learning benefits not only the individual, but it multiplies one person’s understanding to help the majority. Bruyere makes it clear in her article that encouraging an unhealthy level of competitiveness directly and negatively affects the student. Her teachers promoted this unhealthy amount of competition and dangled ideas like getting into a decent college or earning scholarships over her and her fellow classmates’ heads, rather than promoting cooperation and social interaction in learning that benefits the majority, not merely the individual.
Lastly, the final way Generation Z is changing the face of education is through an increased focus on hands-on, active learning, as opposed to obsolete methods of passive listening. “51 percent of surveyed students said they learn best by doing while only 12 percent said they learn through listening” (Kozinsky). This again is in direct contrast to opinions of older generations who still adhere to the idea of lecturing and passive absorption of content. Because of this new wave of ideas relating to active learning and engaging with material in class, Generation Z is bringing about never-before-seen change in schools. There is now an increased focus on discussion and interaction (like the social learning mentioned before) and diving into the material with a practical application beyond sheer memorization and regurgitation on a test. Generation Z is focused on being more and doing more when it comes to learning, and figures like Isabella Bruyere are examples of Gen Zers striving to change the opinions of older figures in education who may not like these new learning methods being implemented.
Overall, Generation Z and education looks completely different from education in Gen X or in the Millennial generation. Because of an increased focus on technology and social interaction, coupled with abandonment of passive learning styles, the students of Gen Z will get a unique learning experience that should suit their needs better than prior generations’. Generation Z has taken the model of education characterized by passive listening in a classroom to a dull teacher’s drone and revolutionized it into something its members both need and want. Students like Isabella Bruyere are advocating for the change they wish to see. Education has become more exciting than it was in past years, and if Gen Z keeps up the good work, the future looks bright for education.
- Everything in American Education is Broken – An article by Jack Schneider in The Atlantic that analyzes the state of education in America today.
- Study: A Quarter of Teens Use Tablets as Their Primary Learning Device in School – The Journal article highlighting the increasing use of tablets in classrooms.