Who adjusts to whom?
As schools open their doors after summer break, educators are wrestling with how to reach the new Generation Z: a hyperconnected crowd that has never experienced a world without ubiquitous devices. Their attention shifts quickly (some say after 8 seconds), and accepted teaching styles don’t always resonate. A returning sophomore at the University of California, San Diego notes, “I’m always having to adapt to education rather than having education adapt to me.”
Teachers have long worked to adapt, of course, out of necessity. A high school ROTC instructor told me he sought his college daughter’s counsel in frustration after some very quiet classes. The dynamic quickly changed after he deployed YouTube videos, TED Talks, and game-based online quizzes.
At Harvard, a senior professor ticks off ever more prominent features in his lectures. He uses more visuals – they're catchy, sometimes funny, and more readily available. He offers a break after 20 minutes: “It is clear students feel they need to check phones.”
Older generations – perhaps even Gen Z’s Millennial elders – often sniff at the habits of younger generations. But openness to new approaches is central to learning. So why shouldn’t it come from both sides? With the right guidance, the Harvard professor notes, “the data and sources that are online actually help students produce better work than past generations.”
Now to our five stories, about withstanding sanctions, improving school safety, and breaking barriers.