Members of Generation Z might still be in middle and high school, but they are already thinking about college.

For its new report, Barnes & Noble surveyed Generation Zers, those who were born between the early 2000s to the present, for their thoughts on higher education. The students surveyed shared their thoughts on everything from how they prefer to study to their thoughts on education technology.

Since 79 percent of Generation Zers display symptoms of emotional distress when kept away from their personal electronic devices, according to a global research report by Unit4, technology on college campuses is only going to increase. As administrators and technology staff at colleges across the country consider new investments in classroom technology or technology infrastructure, it’s imperative to listen to what the next generation of college students expects from its future universities.

How Does Generation Z Learn?

Generation Zers learn through interaction, and colleges need to take that into account when investing in technology. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they learned best by doing, while 38 percent said they learned best by reading, and only 12 percent learned best by listening. When asked how teachers could make learning more fun, Generation Zers said they could use more technology and make learning more hands-on.

“Being hands-on or using interactive devices is the best way for me to learn. Technology is important to use because it keeps you current with our daily lives.” – Barnes & Noble survey respondent, male, younger teen

How are Generation Zers Different From Millennials?

As college campuses become populated by a new generation, administrators need to consider shifting how they use technology to reach students. The Unit 4 study also found that Millennials use three screens on average–a smartphone, TV, and laptop–and Generation Zers use five devices–a smartphone, music player/tablet, laptop, desktop, and TV. The popularization of music players/tablets and the re-popularization of desktop computers may require shifts in technology infrastructure. According to the2016 State of ResNet Report, from the Association for College and University Technology Advancement, colleges have seen Wi-Fi traffic skyrocket over the past four years–a trend that should continue as Generation Zers bring more devices to campus. As Wi-Fi traffic increases, colleges will have to make adjustments to their bandwidth, or risk students becoming dissatisfied.

What Technologies Should Colleges Invest In?

By investing in the right technologies, schools can make classes more interactive and help improve student satisfaction. Everything from encouraging teachers to use iClickers during classes to developing school- or class-specific apps helps promote engagement.

The Barnes & Noble study provided administrators with even more insight on what technologies Gen Zers want to see in their college classrooms. The top technologies in terms of helpfulness are smart boards, Do It Yourself Learning (DIYL), digital textbooks, websites with study materials, online videos, andgame-based learning systems.

Based on what Generation Zers want, colleges need to strengthen technology infrastructure to keep pace with demands. Additionally, as more and more learning moves into the digital realm, it’s essential foruniversities to move to the cloud to meet their storage needs–but, it must be done in a secure way that protects student data. Administrators should also focus on building the 21st-century classroom–a place where technology wasn’t just added in after the fact, but is fully integrated into the space; it’s what digital natives in Generation Z will expect. Blackboards are a thing of the past, but smart boards allow for greater interaction and allow teachers to share new materials.

However, universities can’t simply add in technology and step away. There must be extensive teacher training. Whether it’s a professor who just finished defended a dissertation or a much-beloved tenured professor, all teaching staff needs proper training to best use the new technology. Administrators must also invest in a robust, well-trained IT support staff to make sure the technology is running correctly, safely, and securely.

Colleges may have a couple more years before Generation Z moves into the dorms; however, universities need to start investing in the right technology and making necessary upgrades to make sure their campuses are ready for the next generation.

Read More About
Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs