Just when you thought you had reached a reasonable understanding of generational terms like “The Lost Generation,” “The Greatest Generation,” “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X,” “Millennials” (aka “Generation Y”), “Generation App,” and “Generation Z,” along comes our newest members–the “Phigital Generation.”
According to Michael Stoner (an interesting generational last name), writing in the Call To Action: Marketing And Communications In Higher Education (May 18, 2017), Phigital “is the recently coined name for the upcoming generation of students who don’t draw a distinction between the physical and digital worlds and are comfortable in both.” Although this sounds like the definition of Millennials, the difference here is that the Phigitals don’t remember living in a world without the constant presence of digital devices and connectivity. So, they have no point of comparison and no contexts in which to understand experiences other their own. And they don’t understand why everyone doesn’t always understand their perspective. For them, it never enters their mind that they will ever be asked to be separated from their mobile devices. When we ask them to “Google it,” for example, they wonder why we even bother to ask. For Phigitals, Google is like the air they breathe, a constant presence that is never a conscious choice.
Meris Stansbury’s very interesting and enlightening article from the May 31, 2017 edition of eSchool News points out that although Phigitals are technically a subset of Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2012), they are still worthy of being more precisely defined. After all, there are nearly 73 million of these individuals wandering around with their digital devices (which seem more like appendages than products).
Obviously, the presence of phygitals has some profound implications for our education system. Although we have been cognizant of the necessity of using digital technology in classrooms for several years, the coming of the phygitals demands that we stop seeing digital technology as a novelty and an opportunity for innovation and start understanding it as a given and a non-negotiable part of our cultural landscape.According to Stansbury, there are “three things K-12 and higher ed must know about the rising ‘phigital’ student.’”
The first of these things is an understanding that “Digital is King.” Author David Stillman reminds us that “Gen Z has only known a connected world, and as a result, they don’t draw a distinction between working in an office [or a classroom] and working in a coffeehouse–it’s all work; they’re always online.” Their experiences with digital reality is seamless and is expected to accompany them wherever they happen to be.
The second thing to keep in mind is that “Individualization is Critical,” which means that the world represented by standardized testing and one-size-fits-all instruction is no longer relevant or useful. This of course doesn’t mean that teachers are no longer needed, but that the focus should now be on evaluating information rather than on memorizing it. If all teachers do is lecture and give tests, they can easily be replaced by adaptive learning software. Teaching and learning should now more than ever be a dialogue between teacher and student–the way it used to be 2,500 years ago when Socrates roamed the streets of Athens in search of students eager to engage him in stimulating question and answer sessions.
The third thing is that “Real-World Relevance is a Must,” which should come as no surprise. This is often misunderstood to mean that we should no longer study history, art, or literature, for example, because these pursuits are not relevant. On the contrary, these subjects are ones that demand students make relevant connections between past and present rather than just learning “facts and dates” for no apparent reason. History, after all, is the study of connections, and isn’t meaningful without critical thinking and problem solving. At least that’s how I conduct my history classes, in an environment where I expect to learn more from my students than they learn from me. And, in an effort to make school and “real life” seamless experiences, many “institutions are going a step further in not only allowing students to create their own pathway to careers through competency-based learning and credentialing alternatives, they’ve also begun partnering with industry to create tailored student pipelines to some of the world’s most desirable careers.” And this is really no different than the classes I took in high school where I learned to type on a manual typewriter–the electric ones being reserved only for those with the best typing proficiencies. Those were my “back in the day” non-digital equivalents to today’s digital mobile technology.
Needless to say, we should also understand that what is state-of-the-art today will be tomorrow’s yard sale bric-a-brac. Phigitals will soon be using their VR devices to achieve their learning goals, and who knows where that field is going? Just be prepared for it’s arrival, which in so many ways is already becoming a thing of the past. Those who are best prepared for all this are those who focus on processes rather than products–those who understand, in other words, that the foundation of learning is curiosity. And curiosity can be satisfied with a pencil and paper as well as with a VR viewing device. And aren’t pencils and paper also mobile devices?
The mistake that is too-often made is making an artificial division between “reality” and “virtual reality.” For phigitals, this division doesn’t make sense. We should begin thinking of variations of reality rather than whether to classify something as “real” or “digital.” A smartphone is just as real as a book. Even nature, as one of my favorite writers, Henry Petroski, tells us, is not often as “real” as we might think; do we really believe that a landscaped yard is part of nature?
And let’s not lose sight of the fact that Phigitals are not always young people. How many older (including elderly) people do you know who are obsessed with Facebooking and texting? In this sense, we are all members of the Phigital generation.
I am proud to be an adopted Phigital as well as a pen-and-paper practitioner. It’s all real to me.
See you next week with another phigital column.