By Emily Kuhn
You may have noticed that there are some unique differences between the Generation Z students that sit in your agriculture classroom today and the millennials you previously taught. Today’s students are even more tech-savvy, can multi-task even faster and, if you can believe it, have an even shorter attention span than their predecessors. They read less than 20% of text; think in 4D, not 3D; and are used to immediate feedback.
The standard classroom model where an educator stands in front of the class and lectures simply doesn’t work for these students. Generation Z students want to be successful – in fact, the desire to change the world is a hallmark of this generation – but they will disengage with the discussion if they don’t feel connected or if they don’t see the relevance.
Did I mention that Generation Z students are used to immediate feedback? Current technology has made them used to finding out anything, anytime, anywhere – the world is literally at their fingertips. Today’s agriculture students don’t just want to hear about a topic, they want to see it, touch it and feel it.
How do you engage today’s students in agriculture education?
1. Replace lengthy PowerPoint presentations with brief presentations that incorporate polls, activities and hands-on demonstrations every few slides.
2. Use videos, online activities and group work in addition to the textbook. By varying their focus, you’ll help keep it.
3. Use hands-on learning aids like our new Animal Models and Plant Science Models. These larger-than-life models can be taken apart and put back together as students explore each animal’s internal and external anatomy.
4. Don’t forget that “Why” is as important as “What.” As one of my colleagues recently informed me, Generation Z students need to know that what they’re learning is relevant, and by answering the “Why” question with evidence-based reasoning before teaching the “How,” you’ll assure them that the concept you’re about to teach applies to real life.
5. Incorporate soft skill development whenever possible. Your students will come to you with a varying degree of these skills, but you know all employers will look for them. Collaborative work helps build communication skills, assignment tweaks and activity changes help build flexibility, open-ended questions help build problem-solving skills and reflection activities help build critical thinking skills. (Our Employability Skills Program can help, too.)
With nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture and related job openings expected annually in the U.S. over the next five years, it’s more important than ever to ensure that today’s agriculture students are engaged. By creating an interactive, hands-on learning environment where they can engage in active learning opportunities, you’re setting your students up for success.