"Online Schooling Just Messed Everyone Up": Confessions from Gen Z Students and Our Opportunity to be Distinctly Human in an Increasingly Digital World

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Researchers have described Gen Z, but I wanted to know how these students view themselves. So I asked them! Come explore the survey results that showcase how much Gen Z is craving authentic connection, especially after a year defined by the Covid pandemic. Let's determine what distinctly human tools we have—and often overlook—to give this generation the personalization and peace they know they need.  


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.

Extended Abstract

Like many of us, Generation Z students have had a tough and tricky two years. During these crucial, developmental years in their lives, they have witnessed the world dramatically stop and turn upside down due to the Covid pandemic. Their families have suffered, their schooling has changed, their extracurricular activities have been canceled, and their social lives have unfolded on social media platforms more than ever before. These major shifts have affected their view of both society and themselves greatly—and in ways that we as older generations could never accurately anticipate on our own.

In effort to understand more about how the present uncertainties, changes, and pressures were affecting our new generation of students, I launched a detailed survey in January 2021 as part of my College Readiness Course.  This class is part of the UA Early College program and is designed to prepare high school students for college-level work and expectations.  I based the survey questions largely on Jean Twenge’s book entitled iGen: Why Tody’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us. My high school students were asked numerous questions about their generation: Which terms best define your generation? What is your generation’s greatest strength and weakness? What makes you most excited and/or anxious when starting something new? What makes you most joyful in life?  What makes you most anxious in life? And finally, what you do wish educators and administrators understood about Generation Z?

Come hear how these 1,000 Gen Z students responded to these hard questions after an extremely hard year. As we discuss the survey data and their text responses together, we will identify distinct ways that we can create an instructor’s presence in online courses that honors diversity, eases anxiety, and addresses Gen Z’s specific strengths and weaknesses. We will also wrestle with our own set of questions: How do we offer assignment feedback that gives these students the personalization they need and the authentic connection they crave? How do we create on-demand video content that showcases our humanity and honors theirs? How do we empathize with them in our communication so that they are empowered to move forward confidently in this rapidly-changing world?  As online educators, we spend a lot of time exploring new technologies, tools, and tricks—but what if Generation Z students need more of what makes us human—those skills that involve both head and heart—that are harder to market and name?  Let’s approach these questions together and create a dynamic discussion that no feelings of FOMO can invade or ruin!