The New Kids In ClassPart 2- Digital Natives

In part 1 on The New Kids In Class we looked at the latest generation entering schools: Generation Z. For part 2, we’ll discover why Gen Z are also known by the name ‘Digital Natives’.

First coined by Marc Prensky in his book “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” in 2001, the name describes students who have grown up with digital technology since birth. These are kids that have never used a pay phone or read a physical map. For them, pre-internet might as well be pre-electricity. At the opposite end you have ‘Digital Immigrants’: older generations who have seen the rise of modern technology and adapted accordingly.

Growing up with access to instant gratification has changed the way Generation Z interacts with the world.

Prensky argues that Digital Natives have brains that are literally wired differently than previous generations as a result of growing up with the internet, tablets, cell phones, and computer games. How often do you hear how students have shortened attention spans or struggle at focusing on a single task?

Kids are normally distracted, but constant stimulation has almost made it impossible for Gen Z to sit and focus on a single task. Growing up with access to instant gratification has changed the way Generation Z interacts with the world.

The fatal mistake made by Digital Immigrants comes from their outdated approach to interacting and teaching Gen Z students. It’s almost as if Digital Natives speak a different language and there is a language barrier between them and older generations.

Prensky’s focus was on adapting schools’ approach to teaching Digital Natives, but the same principles apply to serving them in the cafeteria. Consider these questions:

1. Does your cafeteria serve students in the same fashion it did, say, 20 years ago?

2. Do you communicate with students mostly through posters, flyers, or announcements?

3. Do you forgo social media or online resources due to unfamiliarity?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then you need to reconsider how your food service department targets its students. Gen Z are constantly connected with technology, either through the internet or their phones, so schools need to use these mediums to advertise their cafeteria services. Speak to Gen Z through their language. Schools only have a few seconds to grab their students’ attention so use images over words and digital communication over flyers or signs.

In next week’s installment of The New Kids In Class I’ll explain just how to go about communicating with Gen Z through their language. I’ll explain the importance of building a digital community and using various mediums – from social media to cafeteria apps – to reach out to students. If Generation Z are Digital Natives, then schools need to adapt with Digital Cafeterias.