UBTech 2019: Gen Z Learners Will Push the Limits of Mobile-First, Digital-First Learning

Incoming students approach collaboration, content and the user experience in new ways that are important for campus leaders to understand.

The point where Generation Z students meet next-gen technology is right around the corner, and it will change the nature of college campuses. 

That was the message of Gary Kayye, founder and president of rAVe Publications and the founding director of THE rAVe Agency, in a keynote address on Monday at the 2019 UB Tech Conference in Orlando.

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Kayye, who also teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presented “How Networked AV Will Change Everything on Campus.”

While the audiovisual industry has seen big leaps forward in resolution, color and technical solutions, Kayye said, the AV conversation shouldn’t be limited to the product side of the equation. 

Equally important are the people involved, and for colleges, that means taking a close look at Gen Z — members of which are already on campus — and what they expect from their institutions.

“We’re in the midst of a big generational change that needs to be paid attention to,” he said.

Roughly speaking, millennials were born between 1981 and 1995, and Gen Z students were born between 1996 and 2015. Raised during the 2008 recession, shaped by a post-9/11 world (even though most don’t personally remember the terrorist attacks) and accustomed to thinking “mobile first,” Gen Z learners will have new expectations of their college experience.

Kayye shared survey findings, for instance, that show 80 percent of Gen Z students feel distressed if they’re away from their phones, 70 percent spend at least two hours daily on YouTube, and 40 percent say they’re phone-addicted (not that they think that’s a problem).

Of note for higher education leaders, these students also have much lower tolerance for a poor user experience online: 62 percent won’t use a website that’s hard to navigate or slow to load, and 66 percent use more than one device at a time — no surprise to campus networking professionals.

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how IT solutions set the stage for the connected campus.

Gen Z’s Digital-First Mindset Applies to Classrooms and Collaboration

The good news, Kayye said, is that many of the investments that colleges have made in IT infrastructure and instructional technology to support millennial students will also serve these new learners. Both groups want systems that are simple and user friendly. 

Collaboration is a given, and Gen Z students work together seamlessly, both in person and online. Digital collaboration, in fact, may even be more intuitive to them.

“They are digital first,” Kayye said. “They’ve always been digital. There was no analog when it came to collaboration.”

Gen Z learners also privilege mobile delivery over desktops or laptops. That’s important because it changes the way faculty must think about delivering curriculum, and it affects the type of solutions IT staff may consider, such as virtual desktop infrastructure and widely available Wi-Fi.

“If content isn’t friendly on a mobile device, they’re not going to use it,” said Kayye.

The centrality of mobile devices in learning, paired with the shift toward active-learning classrooms, also means that more content will flow over the network and more information may shift to the cloud. Whereas today’s classroom systems may support add-on collaboration, the next iteration will feature native, built-in collaboration — because that’s what Gen Z will expect, Kayye said.

They’ll also expect classrooms that can be configured for various uses and that support multidirectional casting, he said. The anytime, anywhere connectivity that has defined Wi-Fi now will define access to content.

“Very soon, every piece of content can go through the network as well, and you’ll have a lot of decisions to make with regard to that,” said Kayye.

In this scenario, BYOD must be easy and seamless, and the front of the classroom becomes a digital canvas that can host — and support interactivity for — any type of content, from any device. 

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Cloud-Based Content Will Facilitate Flexibility for Faculty and Students

Auto-archiving, which will make it easier to store data in the cloud so that faculty and students can access it anywhere, will facilitate these shifts, said Kayye. 

“All your content can be stored and kept wherever you want that content to be, which gives universities control over all the content that’s being amassed on campus all the time,” he said.

Cloud-based content also will increase flexibility for instructors. “As a presenter, as I go from classroom to classroom, I should have the option to present from a laptop or stream from a classroom without a PC being in the room,” said Kayye.

On the horizon, he said, are AV systems with built-in thin client computers so that collaboration systems, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, will be available without a PC. 

“Once that happens, we’ll have the ability to share our content wherever we want it to be,” Kayye said.

So what does all this mean for campus IT leaders? 

From Kayye’s perspective, it means network bandwidth that can support AV over IP and OS-agnostic content players

More important than the technology, though, will be understanding the customers that IT will be serving. As Gen Z learners become the majority, they’ll push the limits of existing systems. Inevitably, it’s a shift that will force campus leaders to adapt. “They think differently, and they don’t react to things in the same way,” said Kayye. 

Follow EdTech’s coverage of the 2019 UB Tech Conference here.

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Jun 11 2019

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