Today’s freshmen on college campuses are digital natives. They grew up with the mentality that “there’s an app for that,” with phones in pockets and answers to any question in the world at the tip of their fingers. The changing profile of students impacts the way they approach learning, think about higher education and, most importantly, the way educators teach.
The Cloud Generation, or Generation Z, was born starting in 1996. They are web-savvy, app-users, and do not remember a time before social media. Technology has been a part of their life since birth and followed them into the classroom and nearly every aspect of their personal lives.
Think about this for a minute. Generation Z is growing up not knowing what the world looked like before Google. They grew up with the ability to have their questions answered instantly - there are 3.8 million searches on Google every minute. Every day, they have access to the most information gathered in the history of the world.
Redefining the Process of Educating
The fundamental skills of today’s workforce have not necessarily changed. For a long time, we’ve been talking about problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and the ability to always learn. What has changed is the approach to educating and the questions we ask students.
Generation Z increasingly realizes that while a college degree is important to have a desirable career, hands-on experience often provides as valuable as classroom learning. They want these experiences from the beginning, courses that focus on entrepreneurship and the ability to design their own course of study.
What Problem do you Want to Solve?
One of the questions we still ask young students is, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” But, we don’t necessarily know what the jobs will be.
Generation Z increasingly realizes that while a college degree is important to having a desirable career, hands-on experience often provides as valuable as classroom learning
Based on what we know about the future and this generation, we should be asking students what problems they want to solve. Then we can ask them follow up questions: what are the knowledge, skills, and abilities you need to solve that problem? What do you need to learn to solve that problem? What research is missing? Who is solving the problem today?
Studies find that many in this generation aren’t motivated by career ladder advancement or financial gains. So, how can we create a higher education environment that gives them an opportunity to solve the problems they are passionate about in their own way, with familiar tools? They understand technology, computer science, the cloud, and how to access information.
A great example of this is Google Science Fair winner, Brittany Wenger. Brittany researched and discovered ways to lower the cost and raise the precision of breast cancer diagnoses. Her work made headlines and put her on TIME Magazine’s 30 under 30 list.
The relevant part of her accomplishment is how she solved this problem. She literally picked up a college “How to Code 101” textbook, and taught herself how to program. After many attempts and failures, she began designing an artificial “neural network” that mimics the way a human brain operates. After 7.6 million trials, the program can effectively “learn” what harmful breast cancer cells look like, and then it can make diagnostic calls. Cloud4Cancer, the program she created, is 99 percent effective in detecting malignant cells.
The most amazing thing about this story, is Brittany started all this work when she was 17 years old. She used the cloud for research and showed how to use the power of the cloud solving big problems.
Where do We Go From Here?
We know the future isn’t about what you know but rather what you do with what you know. How can we use learning analytics to help build a generation of lifelong learners from the moment they enter higher education? Higher education institutions need to be able to leverage the enormous amount of data available to them to help students progress through their education. With the cloud, students should be able to know how they are doing, what they are learning, the sequence of what learning should be, and have strategies to reevaluate their approaches to what they learn and how they learn it.
Learning also cannot stop when institutions hand out diplomas. At the end of this academic year, universities will award almost two million bachelor’s degrees. What strategies will schools use to help students continue to build their knowledge, skills, and abilities? Will colleges take advantage of cloud-computing capabilities like AI to stay connected with students?
We need to constantly be redefining and expanding the way we take advantage of the cloud for the cloud generation.