How to Engage First-Year College Students: Connecting with Gen Z

First-year college studentAs the 2014-2015 academic year begins, you may be wondering about the best ways to engage first-year college students. Most first-years are going through a major period of transition. They’re taking on a more adult role in college, where they’ll be accountable for themselves. Most likely, they’re living on campus or commuting from nearby, meeting new people and adjusting to the scholastic rigors of college. During this period of new people and new experiences, some of your first-year students will inevitably feel lost and unsure. Some of them will fall behind in their studies, pursue other interests and in general lose interest in your college. This will affect your retention rates, which in turn affects graduation rates and more than that it represents a failure of your college’s mission. No doubt you want to see all of your students succeed and this  especially includes first-year students as they are often the most overwhelmed by the challenges and changes of college. It is with that in mind that Higher Ed Hero presents the following tips to engage first-year college students to keep them active and set them up for success in their higher education careers.

Using Technology with The Next Generation of Digital Natives

Generation Z has grown up with the internet. Google has been around for most of their lives. Facebook, Twitter and other social media, as well as text messaging is just a part of how they communicate and experience the world. Be prepared for how fast they find information and how fast they expect to be able to access information. Students will expect robust networks, instant downloads and massive databases. Moreover, they will expect to have outside-the-classroom communication through multiple media channels. Whether it’s through the student email server, text message alerts on assignment due dates or online collaboration via your LMS, first-year students will want to feel connected at all times through technology. It might be advisable to take a refresher course on the latest technologies to keep pace with your first-year students.

Snackable Content, Visuals and Gamification

With technology and the internet being such an integral part of their lives, the way first-year students process information will reflect that of the internet. To accommodate this, communicate more frequently in shorter bursts of “snackable content.” Talk to your first-year students in images, such as emojis, symbols, pictures and videos, whenever the subject matter lends itself to doing so. Gamify the classroom. Today’s students have grown up on games, which research has shown to be an effective way to learn and discover.

Engage Your First-Year Students as Early as Possible

While today’s students tend be more self-confident and have much greater resources for finding information, human nature will always leave some feeling lost at a time of major transition. To ease that transition and to help keep students engaged, you will want to start building your relationship with your students before the semester begins. When you have your course rosters, send out a welcome email. Include an introduction about yourself and your background. Go ahead and provide them with the syllabus early and include your expectations for the class. This will help students know where they stand, what to expect and will make them feel like they have an ally on campus before they ever arrive.

Encourage Collaboration, Discovery and Creativity

Gen Z students tend to be very social and very entrepreneurial. Again, this could be accredited the tech generation and its focus on social interaction and do-it-yourself inventiveness. Tap in to that energy by developing projects and assignments that allow your first-year students to create something unique. This will work even better if it’s an assignment they can collaborate on. Allow them to take ownership of their own project by creating space for them to explore and discover. While the classroom will naturally be a place to explore theory, expect that eventually your students are going to want to get hands on with something they can do all their own.

Make Your First-Year Students Feel Like Their Part of the Global Community         

The effects of globalization can be seen in all sectors, from the economy and politics to travel, commerce and social issues. Many higher education institutions have responded to this by creating programs designed to prepare college students to be part of the global workforce. Framing classroom discussions in the global context, involving students on global social issues and allowing students to express their social values will make a big difference in keeping first-year students engaged.

It’s certainly not impossible to engage first-year students, especially because so many have a healthy attitude towards growth and discovery. But, to be successful, you need to understand the unique values and world views of Generation Z. The past few decades have seen some of the largest shifts in how people interact with one another and the world. Understanding your first-year students is the first step towards keeping them engaged and setting them up for successful college careers.

We here at Higher Ed Hero hope you found these tips to engage college first-year students helpful.

If you’d like an in-depth training session on Creative Ways to Engage First-Year Students, please click here.

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Kevin – Higher Ed Hero

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