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How to engage the “Phygital Generation” in the STEM classroom

Ginelle Testa
Teaching with Labster

All Gen Zs have ever known the internet since they were born. Digital is their first language, so it’s no surprise that everything they do has a digital component: messaging with friends, shopping, reading, gaming, or learning. 

But here’s what may surprise you: they also love in-person experiences. 

They love Kindle but also love a good paperback. They want to shop online but also want to visit brick-and-mortar stores. 

Hence the name, the “Phygital Generation.”

This generation wants a mix. Gen Z thrives in both physical and digital spaces.

And we have good news; the Phygital Generation is wildly interested in STEM! “Results from a survey of over 11,000 U.S. high school and college students, conducted by the National Society of High School Scholars in 2022, offer insights into Gen Z’s career choices and show that a majority of respondents are planning for future jobs in STEM fields” (1). Even better news: this population is ethnically diverse, with only 19% of respondents being white. Future STEM professionals will come from all backgrounds, enriching the field.

So what does all of this mean for the STEM classroom? A one-size fits all instructional approach may not work, but here are some tips for teaching this new Phygital Generation.

Tips for teaching the Phygital Generation

Offer them hybrid options

The Phygital Generation craves hybrid. Gen Zs like to learn about a topic in class and have homework assignments that reinforce learning online. Blended learning and the flipped classroom are becoming more and more popular as instructors assign options like videos or interactive labs for homework, then enable students to be more prepared for hands-on in-person labs.

Minimize lecturing - let them self-direct

Gen Z loves to self-direct their own learning experiences. (3). They want hands-on and visual experiences! Labster’s science simulations are a good way to meet these needs as each interactive experience was created for self-paced exploration, with quiz questions that do not time out and the ability to work with our virtual assistant, Dr. One to complete the simulation on the student's time. Further, Labster is available on tons of devices! The app is available on both iOS and Android apps. Students can play Labster wherever and whenever they like.

Break content into bite-sized segments

Research shows that an average Gen Z’s attention span is just eight seconds (2). Of course, you’ll need them to focus longer than that in the class and the lab, but it’s good to know that short assignments, clips, projects, etc. are best for them. They have a ton of information being lobbed at them all day; it’s best to keep what you offer bite-sized. 

Use real-life examples

Gen Zs are plugged in! Many of them know what’s going on in the world around them, so relate your teachings to what’s happening and you’ll capture their interest. Labster’s catalog includes several simulations that relate to current issues, from a mission to recycle waste to produce energy to colonize Mars to a Cancer Pharmacology virtual lab where students can review the usefulness of a multi-million dollar operation to identify potential drugs for cancer chemotherapy and provide their recommendations to the Project Leader.

Use social tools

Using social tools lets students show off what they’re good at and meets them in their comfort zone. Maybe this means allowing students to use TikTok to create a short video on what they’re learning. Or, perhaps it means encouraging students to blog about their projects. It could even mean making a lab-specific Pinterest board! The possibilities are endless. 

Include relevant cutting-edge technology

It’s not enough to get the shiniest new app or software. The product must be relevant to Gen Zers and their needs to be useful. At Labster, we offer gamified simulations on over 300 science topics such as Chemistry, Biology, Physics, and Anatomy and Physiology. Our virtual labs bring students through an engaging story to achieve a mission. It’s relevant because the content aligns specifically with your lesson. 

One example is our Physical and Chemical Changes: Escape the hostile planet! Virtual Lab, where students become masters of both physical and chemical transformations to help a stranded scientist escape a hostile planet. 

Hostile-planet

Set students up for a career

As we said, many Gen Zs are gearing up for a career in STEM. It’s best to encourage them along the way! Let them do research that interests them. Perhaps a student expresses interest in climate change work. Encourage them to pursue that passion and do a project based on the topic. Further, every classroom can build up essential science skill sets so that students feel prepared!

In Sum

Hopefully, you understand the Phygital Generation more and feel empowered to meet them where they are— in both the physical AND the digital world.

Questions for consideration:

  • What methods have you already found that work to meet your Phygital Generationstudents where they are?

  • Which new ideas will you be taking away from this article?

Sources:

(1) STEM Fields are Top Choice for Gen Z Students, New NSHSS Survey Shows -. (2022, June 21). THE Journal. Retrieved from https://thejournal.com/articles/2022/06/21/stem-fields-are-top-choice-for-students-according-to-new-nshss-survey.aspx 

(2) Vizcaya-Moreno MF, Pérez-Cañaveras RM. Social Media Used and Teaching Methods Preferred by Generation Z Students in the Nursing Clinical Learning Environment: A Cross-Sectional Research Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Nov 9;17(21):8267. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17218267. PMID: 33182337; PMCID: PMC7664855.

(3) Getting to Know Gen Z. Barnes & Noble College. Retrieved from https://www.bncollege.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Gen-Z-Report.pdf

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