Teaching the Class of 2023

It’s 2020 and our incoming freshman class likely grew up very differently than us. Often referred to as Gen Z or iGen, students born around 2001 are the most ethnically diverse generation in American history. Below are some of the realities of our 3,400 incoming students this academic year.

  • The primary use of a phone has always been to take pictures.
  • Most of them will rent, not buy, their course textbooks.
  • Airline passengers have always had to take off their shoes to pass through security.
  • They have grown up with “search algorithms” that know what they want before they do.
  • They are on track to graduate college in 2023, the same year as Sasha Obama.
  • They were born the same year that the Apple iPod was released.

Our students may be expecting a college experience that is different than ours (bring on the advising chatbots, 3D campus tours, and virtual reality in the classroom).

One thought on “Teaching the Class of 2023

  1. I want to briefly think about what I see as a couple of assumptions at work in the original post.

    First, I want to point out that while a majority of our undergraduate students do fall into the “traditional college student” category, our students represent a wide variety of ages and life situations. In fact, 10% of Chico State undergraduates are over the age of 25, and that number climbs to 17% for the CSU as a whole. (One might debate whether to include 22-24 year olds in these numbers since the traditional age range for undergraduates is 18-22. If 22-24 year olds were included, the numbers begin to approach 50%.) (Demographic info is available here from the CSU chancellor’s office: https://www2.calstate.edu/data-center/institutional-research-analyses/Pages/enrollment.aspx.) This means a not insignificant number of students fall outside “traditional” age ranges. If we are concerned with significant demographic facts related to generational alignment, then I suggest such statistics cannot be ignored. Finally, the original post mentions diversity, and one should definitely be wary of generational analyses that do not directly factor in race or class.

    Second, it is a mistake to associate students with a knee-jerk “rah rah” attitude toward digital technology. This applies both to their general use of things like social media as well as to their interactions with educational institutions. On an anecdotal level, I regularly encounter students in my Science, Technology, and Literature courses who are highly ambivalent toward seemingly pervasive digital technologies. They often report uneasiness with their use of social media as well as with their peers’ use, for example; often this is discussed in terms of spending too much time on social media platforms, hesitance about surveillance and data collection, as well as fears about the potential for negative emotional, psychological, or social effects. Finally, rates of something like social media usage do not necessarily translate into ease with discipline-oriented educational technologies or with institutional bureaucratic platforms. According to one study (https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2016/1/student-attitudes-toward-technology-in-advising), students desired face to face advising for help resolving complex issues, for example. Our institution is not, of course, exactly the kind focused on in the report, but I think the report provides an important lesson that students actually have very complex attitudes toward technologies, especially those deployed in educational institutions.

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