Gen Z and the 4Cs: Creating Engaging Course Content for the Next Generation

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Although we just wrapped our minds around what “millennial” means, a new generation is headed our way.  While a precise definition of Generation Z is hard to grasp, methods to engage Gen Z students are within reach.  Join us to discuss ways to develop course content for the next generation.  


Stefanie Buckner has taught the UAEC 200 College Readiness Course at The University of Alabama for five years. She has led two major course revisions, collaborating with instructional designers to create a variety of course content including on-campus videos, screencast tutorials, cartoon videos, and Storyline interactives. Before teaching at UA, she taught high school English in Nashville, TN for seven years, and she has a passion for preparing students for both college-level work and the online learning environment.
Robyn Hammontree is an Academic Director at Noodle, where she oversees the development and design of online programs at several universities. Prior to working at Noodle, she was a Senior Instructional Designer at The University of Alabama specializing in interactive technology, and worked as a Curriculum Developer with The Institute of Reading Development.
Tracy Hinton is an instructor for the UAEC 200 College Readiness Course at The University of Alabama, which is the first class taken by high school students in the UA Early College program. During the past year, she has been involved in a transformative course revision process that incorporates innovative instructional technologies to engage these high school-aged students. Prior to this position, she taught Career Technologies and English at the middle and high school levels. In addition, she worked as a K-12 Library Media Specialist and has presented at local, state, and national conferences. Dr. Hinton's areas of study include K-12 technology integration, 21st Century Learning Skills, and student engagement and motivation in online learning. She enjoys utilizing engaging instructional methods that help students to discover their passions and develop their College and Career Readiness skills.

Extended Abstract

Many college educators and instructional designers have now had enough experience with millennials to understand what that generation needs in an online environment and how they respond to online courses.  However, the needs and perspectives of the next generation— Generation Z—can feel more disorienting and elusive.  How do you effectively engage an entire generation of digital natives?  How do you stimulate Gen Z students when their default setting is hyperstimulation? How do you create the type of responsive design they have come to know and expect an in online environment? 

We recently wrestled with these questions as we developed an online College-Readiness Course for high school students.  Since our last course revision process three years ago, high school students have changed, and we needed to change too.  Our course is often students’ first encounter with both online learning and our university. Needless to say, we had the distinct responsibility (and pressure!) to engage high school students in a meaningful way so they embrace both online learning and our institution.  Rather than focusing on what remains mysterious about this generation, we started with what we know: Gen Z students are digital natives, expecting responsive design and stimulation when engaging with online content. From there, we used the 4Cs of 21stCentury Learning Skills to guide our design: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.  Slowly but surely and piece by piece, we developed a new layout, new assessments, new interactives, and new video content with Gen Z specifically in mind. 

Come see the good, the bad, and the ugly of our revision process: where we started and how we transformed old course content into activities and experiences for Gen Z students. By juxtaposing our old course layout and assignments with our new ones, we will illustrate how tools like Flipgrid, Zoom, Venngage, and Storyline can enhance learning and assessment.  In addition, we will discuss how these technologies and resources provide Gen Z with the opportunities to develop the 4Cs, which are increasingly essential skills in their academic, personal, and professional lives.  

This discovery session will invite attendees to respond by sharing their own research, experiences, and perspectives on Gen Z and how it shapes their online courses and pedagogical approaches.  What are your observations about this generation?  What does the research indicate, and how do we practically apply these findings? Have you identified assignments, assessments, activities, discussions, or video content within your courses that need radical revision or revamping to reach the Gen Z generation?  If so, we will brainstorm some options and opportunities together. We will exchange contact information so that our conversation can continue beyond the conference, as we seek to understand, instruct, and inspire Gen Z students together.