TEACHING TO THE SMART PHONE (iGen) GENERATION

Written by Patricia Baia, PhD, Albany Law School’s Director of Online Learning and Instructional Technology

Teaching to the iGen (iGeneration, Plurals or Generation Z, born between 1995-2012, the generation after Millennials/GenerationY) is upon us and the rapid growth in mobile technologies has caused their understanding of the lines between academic, professional, and personal uses to be blurred. Legal educators interested in engaging this generation and increasing their learning can spend some time reflecting on their characteristics and experimenting with new teaching tools outlined below.

The iGen cohort are characteristically known for their short attention span and anti-social behaviors. This generation never knew a day without a smart phone or tablet, choose Snapchat over Facebook, think email is old technology, might someday be diagnosed with a gaming disorder, and spend more time on digital devices than with humans. iGens may not know how to write in cursive; were never taught with a chalkboard; never used a typewriter, calculator, or a wall phone; or took a test using a bubble sheet and # 2 pencil. They have always voted by electronic ballot, will never be able to celebrate a birth of a child in a hospital with a smoke, and may never know the time and effort put into making a mixed tape. Yes, I did make many mixed tapes! I am Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980, sometimes listed as 1965-1979); that’s what we did.

It is interesting to think about how technology has changed the lives of this cohort. Particularly, what is the impact of constant technological interruptions on this group’s concentration and performance? (Rosen, 2010) What will this mean for higher education, teaching and learning, and engagement? The 2018 Horizon Report Preview is a great resource summarizing the upcoming trends, challenges, and developments in educational technology.

To reach the iGeneration, it is good practice to incorporate Multimodal Teaching and Active Learning (Jewitt, 2006) approaches in both traditional and online courses. Multimodal Teaching gives students the opportunity to learn material through many different (and a combination of) sensory modalities. These can occur in a thoughtful way throughout a course, in an individual lesson, or within an assignment. This may be attractive to the iGens and a way to leverage their understanding of content. Active Learning can be simply defined as students “doing”; involving students directly in learning rather than passively receiving. This technique may help the iGens to concentrate and focus in. Together, the combination of these two pedagogies may help target different learning styles and reach this smart phone generation in a way they are familiar with. What would also be cool, is if you could reach them through their digital devices. Faculty can try various tools to increase understanding, engage a large classroom, create a more active/engaging lesson for a difficult topic, incorporate formative assessments, check understanding, etc. I have a large bag of ideas and strategies I use to teach and share with Albany Law faculty during the instructional design process (National Education Association has a great resource for this). One product that recently has been helpful (Yes, I am gifting you a practical resource. You’re welcome!) is called NearPod. Faculty can import pdfs, images, and PowerPoints into NearPod then add interactive features such as polling, quizzes, open ended questions, and 3D objects. Teachers use the interactive NearPod live in class and then (ok, this is the cool part) students can synchronize it with their mobile device[s] (i.e. laptop, tablet, iPhone, etc.) and participate. This is a fairly inexpensive tool (Check out: here for pricing structure). There is even a VR (Virtual Reality) component!! Now I am excited!! Are you? Check out here and here to learn more. There are certainly many other solutions that can do the same thing, or that you may already be using, but I think the simplicity of this product (for both the professor and student) is a big pro. Start off with the free (silver) version and go from there. A con (since I do not have anything to do with this company, I must also give you the naysayer view), the pre-created, ready- to-teach lessons may not be applicable to legal education.

So keep engaging students and think about the next generation coming in. The iGens seem to be this socially and technology connected group of students, with a wide thirst for input. I can’t help but think of Johnny #5, the robot (yes, I am talking about the movie Short Circuit), “…input, need more input.” We can use multimodal teaching and active learning techniques in our classrooms to give them the “input”. If you have not done so already, start planning for this generation, they are coming to your classroom soon.

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