Generation Z—the Internet generation, digital natives, the digital generation. These are just a few descriptors for the generation born between 1995–2009. Generation Z has grown up in a world surrounded by digital communication tools. As a result, the approach to educating these students has shifted to mobile learning technologies, or mLearning, and online education.
At the 2014 ADEA Annual Session & Exhibition, Elise Eisenberg, D.D.S., M.A., of the New York University College of Dentistry, shared a variety of mLearning and online tools to educate these students in a rapidly changing environment. With mLearning, a person can learn anytime, anywhere since there is almost always an available connection to data, and students have the devices that make mLearning easy—smartphones, tablets and netbooks, to name a few. Students engage in just-in-time learning, looking up information when they need it.
As a result of this preference for digital learning, Dr. Eisenberg explained that students are often best reached using the abundance of educational materials available on mobile channels and social media sites. These mobile channels provide a plethora of tips, tutorials and full-fledged lessons capable of supplementing didactic and clinical courses. Many of these platforms allow instructors to embed videos and quizzes and enable students to learn at their own pace and receive immediate feedback. The various apps and websites also offer strong search capabilities, performance-based assessment and support for effective learning. Also, it is asynchronous, meaning that information can be downloaded and retrieved later for review.
In determining the best options for mobile learning, it is important to consider student learning and faculty teaching styles as well as available technology, Dr. Eisenberg said. Online courses should strive to foster active learning and emotional interactive engagement.
And of course, there are challenges to surmount with any shift in curriculum and methodology. Faculty needs to understand how and why content is used so that they can devise new teaching and learning activities around these new technologies. There are also practical considerations regarding the cost of hardware and data plans. Not all students, for example, can afford to purchase tablets, leading faculty to look for other options to accommodate students. There can also be issues with different platforms—iOS versus Android.
From an administration’s point of view, a university should provide students with resources to support their use of online learning technology. Administration officials should also ensure that these initiatives are part of its strategic plan and budget, which is often challenging given that many budgets are being slashed.
Once a plan has been formulated, there are many different sources to tap into for materials and content. There are materials available that are open source, meaning they reside in the public domain and permit free use and re-purposing by others. Suggested sites for content include:
Content from these sources and many others create many possibilities for learning with open courses online. Students are already using the technology, so it is time for schools and faculty to embrace this new method of learning for the day when these new types of students enter colleges and universities.