Teaching Strategies to Engage Millennial and Generation Z Students in Online Education During COVID-19

by Barbara E. Hekel, PhD, MPH, RN, & Bridgette Crotwell Pullis, PhD, RN, CHPN

The move to online learning was sudden and stressful, but it also provided an opportunity for us to look closely at the community health course that we teach.  We remodeled assignments and teaching strategies to fit the online environment and the students’ generational characteristics. An understanding of generation learning differences and preferences provided context as we chose teaching strategies. The majority of our students are millennials or members of Generation Z (up to 40 years old). These students like using their own technology, are accustomed to multitasking, appreciate interaction with others, and want to actively participate in learning (Shatto & Erwin, 2017).   

Chicca and Shellenbarger (2018) described 9 characteristics of the Generation Z student and a variety of teaching strategies for each characteristic.  We focused on six of the nine generation Z student characteristics, and employed a variety of teaching strategies.  For a description of the strategies, you can see our article in Public Health Nursing (Pullis & Hekel, 2021).  Generation Z students are digital natives and are accustomed to technology.  We use the Learning Management system (LMS) calendar to note classes and assignments and send reminders of class events. Emails from students state that the assignment reminders were helpful and made the students feel like we cared about them. We meet each week live using WebEx and would record the lectures for the students. We use the chat box and Poll Everywhere to engage the students and provide immediate feedback to them.

Generation Z students like dealing with realistic situations and we linked classroom examples and a debate with current events. The Generation Z student may not have as well-developed relationship or communication skills due to frequent use of technology and we are available to students before and after WebEx class each week. At the end of the class time, we wait until the students have signed off and we have answered any questions before we end the WebEx. This typically is less than 10 minutes.  We also use an ice breaker in the discussion groups on the LMS and use small groups of 4-5 students for all group work. Generation Z students are also open-minded and tolerant, and we found that the students like the debate assignment in which a variety of viewpoints are presented.

Organization and planning were necessary to ensure the changes still met unit objectives and the course outcomes. We closely evaluated student evaluations, course grades, and HESI scores to ensure the changes were effective.  We found the student evaluations were very positive and scores on course evaluations increased over majority of items.  Course grades distribution between A/B were approximately the same, and the mean HESI scores increased each semester we have been teaching online. We plan to remain a hybrid course, keeping all of the changes we made to provide a quality course during the COVID lockdown.

Interested in learning more about the teaching strategies we used?  Please see the following:

Pullis, B. C., & Hekel, B. E. (2021). Adapting a community health nursing course to an online format. Public Health Nursing, 38(3), 439–444. https://doi.org/10.1111/phn.12868

Chicca, J., & Shellenbarger, T. (2018). Connecting with generation Z: Approaches in nursing education. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 13, 180–184. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.teln.2018.03.008

Shatto, B., & Erwin, K. (2017). Teaching Millennials and Generation Z: Bridging the generational divide. Creative Nursing, 23(1), 24–28.

Dr. Hekel is an Assistant Professor at the Cizik School of Nursing, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, in the Undergraduate Department. She teaches Community/ Public Health Nursing class and clinical.  

She serves on the Research Committee and Strategic Planning – Advocacy Workgroup for ACHNE: https://www.achne.org, and she belongs to the Public Health Nursing Section in APHA: www.apha.org She can be reached at Barbara.E.Hekel@uth.tmc.edu 

Dr. Crotwell Pullis is an Associate Professor at the Cizik School of Nursing, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, in the Undergraduate Department.  She is the founder and the director of the Veterans’ Bachelor of Science in Nursing tract and teaches Community/ Public Health Nursing class and clinical. Dr. Pullis is a certified hospice and palliative nurse.  An ACHNE member and APHA member, she has presented nationally and internationally on veteran and hospice topics. She can be reached at Bridgette.R.Pullis@uth.tmc.edu 

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