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Engaging Gen Z in the Classroom: Not Just a Screen Saga

Allow me to paint a picture for you: a generation born amidst the rapid proliferation of technology, whose earliest memories are often intertwined with the melodic pings of chat notifications. Yes, I’m talking about Generation Z—those born roughly between 1997 and 2012. They’re not just tech-savvy; they’re tech-intuitive. 

However, as any educator would confirm, with this tech intuition comes a significant challenge. How do we keep these digital natives from spiraling into the digital abyss during lectures? How do we keep students connected, not just on social media—but within their course material too? 

As students today demonstrate, their tech intuition offers both opportunities and challenges for their educational journey. 

Context is King (or Queen) 

One word: relevance. Gen Z doesn’t just want to learn; they want to understand the significance.  

This generation wants to know the 'why' behind the 'what.' Don’t just teach them marketing strategies; show them how those strategies have real-world implications.  

Instead of diving straight into the 'what' or 'how', start lessons by discussing the 'why'.  

  • Why is a particular topic relevant?  

  • How does it fit into the bigger picture? 

  • When (or how) might I be using this as I ascend in my career? 

Context can breed connection—whether through questioning to students, or practical application. 

Maybe even toss in a recent blunder you witnessed in the industry—nothing like a good face-palm moment to make a lesson memorable or get kids talking! 

The Power of Storytelling 

Storytelling isn’t just for bedtime; it’s a classroom gem. Narratives have an uncanny ability to make abstract concepts tangible. They resonate, stick, and often leave a lasting impact, far more than dry data or isolated facts.  

Storytelling isn't exclusive to a select few; it's a universal tool that everyone can wield. The inclusion of guest speakers, especially seasoned industry professionals, can elevate this narrative experience. By sharing their firsthand accounts and journeys, they offer students invaluable insights into the real-world workings of business, coupled with the added zest of potential networking opportunities. 

Today’s students are often contributing to society whether through internships, on-campus jobs, or even with a side hustle. Inviting these budding entrepreneurs and professionals to share their stories can enrich classroom discussions across various business disciplines and create connections better than a static textbook ever could. 

Share the Spotlight 

Every educator understands the value of a student's voice; it’s a unique blend of fresh perspectives, raw experiences, and, quite often, unexpected insights. While a textbook can provide foundational knowledge, it is the lived experiences and interpretations of that knowledge that truly breathe life into a concept. 

Engaging students goes beyond the simple Q&A at the end of a lecture. It's about turning the classroom into a collaborative platform, where not only is the educator teaching, but students are also educating each other and the instructor. Instead of sticking strictly to scripted content, sprinkle in open-ended questions that prompt deeper thought. Such questions do more than just test memory—they inspire reflection and application. 

Moreover, in our globalized world, many students bring diverse work experiences to the table. This provides a goldmine of real-world examples of how textbook theories play out—or sometimes don’t—in the modern workspace. 

When you share the spotlight, you aren’t diminishing your role as an educator. Instead, you’re amplifying the learning environment, turning every lesson into a dynamic exchange of ideas and experiences. 

Interactive is the Way to Go 

Here's the golden rule: Gen Z doesn’t just want to consume content; they want to co-create it. Their education must be a dialogue, not a monologue. This is a generation that grew up swiping, pinching, and tapping on screens. They’re hardwired to interact. 

If there’s one thing Gen Z doesn't do, it’s passive learning. They’re not about to sit and soak—they want to engage, challenge, and interact. Bring in the tech arsenal: polls, quizzes, and, dare I say, the timely meme. It’s about striking a balance, blending tradition with technology.  

Yet, while technology is a potent tool, it’s crucial to remember it’s just that—a tool. The art of teaching doesn't change, but how we deliver it should evolve. 

Connecting in the Age of Digital Natives  

As we navigate the vibrant, occasionally vexing world of Gen Z, let's remember that at its core, teaching is about connection. It’s about bridging gaps, fostering understanding, and kindling curiosity. With a sprinkle of innovation and a dash of empathy, we can create a classroom where screens are partners, not rivals.  

If we teach students to be forward-thinking in business, isn't it only right that our methods reflect that same foresight? Let’s go!  

About the Author

At the confluence of business strategy, creativity, and innovation is where you’ll find Daniel—with an agile mind, curious disposition, and collaborative spirit. Teaching within the University of Toledo’s Neff College of Business & Innovation, Daniel’s courses span the disciplines of business: management, marketing, technology, and innovation. In addition to teaching, Daniel is active in industry for Nationwide, on its innovation team where he serves as an Innovation Designer, creating new impactful products and services that people can’t imagine, and then can’t imagine living without. Prior, Daniel worked for Root Inc. (part of Accenture), a consulting firm, bringing strategic change, interactive learning solutions, culture transformation, and engagement strategies to life for American Airlines, Fossil Group, Hilton Worldwide, Verizon, and numerous other Fortune 500 companies.

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