The Phygitals have Arrived — A Generation for this Century

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The phygital generation or Gen Z finds manipulating virtual reality paddles or headsets, entering an AR world, snap chatting with a friend, or posting an IG story as comfortable as playing a game of soccer under a lighted night, dancing with friends, reading a paper book, shopping with a parent or swinging high in the playground.

Learning spaces today aren’t all physical. Kids today locate themselves in space that is multidimensional, sometimes without walls, sometimes without solid artifacts, sometimes without another “bones and muscle” human.

They move with ease across boundaries, more interested in activity than watching. They are the #experiencedesign generation, kids who want to hack, invent, participate, infuse, create, and connect with their artifacts, memories, ideas, opportunities, communities. Place is just where they happen to be in the moment. Learning is not limited to school or home. Community is not limited to church or soccer practice or the cafeteria. Identity is not limited to demographic check boxes on a census form.

Phygitals value experiences as much as, if not more, than material possessions. They like to make learning – not just receive learning. They return us to our roots as humans because they value the power of story – as told through graphic novels, video games, or one-sitting, asynchronous, multi-device accessible video series. They have moved well beyond their grandparents’ Saturday night at the movies or weekly Tuesday night sitcom episode.

They care about their own wellness and that of the planet. They believe community matters and taking care of community is as important in distant physical places as it is to the people in their hometowns. It’s why, from my perspective, young people in so many school communities across the nation extend themselves to fundraise or collect donations for those impacted by disaster. They also don’t limit themselves to local car washes as the fundraiser of choice. Instead, they augment physical reality by seeking support across a multitude of online fundraising platforms, through social media publicity, and in student-crafted websites.

Phygitals use a multitude of text and image-based tools to learn, communicate, and share with others. They like face time and screen time. Given opportunities to chase down a drone or play foursquare, they will move. They easily locate themselves in a variety of spaces and know how to navigate those with ease.

However, even as phygitals’ sense of space has expanded, their physical need for caves, campfires, and watering holes remains. Our young humans still seek a continuum of places for silent work and meditation, family gatherings, tribal connectivity, and cross-pollination opportunities whether at games or marketplaces.

In school communities that understand and value learners’ active participation and leadership, educators are changing how they set up and use environments, pedagogy, tools, curricula, and assessment. Progressive school communities who shift practices left over from the 20th century become less “schoolish.” And, their children become less schooled as passive listeners and more active as empowered learners.

Educators in such contemporary learning communities value educating children for life more than teaching them to pass decontextualized tests. In taking the risk to make changes that lead to learners who see their voices as important, their agency as desired, and their influence as real, we adults can find inspiration in our capability to teach even as we learn along with our phygital children.

Dear Karl, Scott, Daniel, and John : The Future You Predicted Seems Right On Schedule

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The Thank You Letter: Part I

Dear Karl, Scott, Daniel and John,

You told me to start preparing learners, even  my own child, for careers that haven’t even been invented yet. Now I know what that means. My son texted me this past week to let me know about a job offer from a media company that he sees as a good career move. I immediately called to chat.

The conversation went something like this.

“So, first thing, does this job have benefits?” (me)

“Yea, it’s fulltime but I can have all the vacation I want as long as my team gets our work done.” (him)

“Umm. really? That’s interesting. What kind of job is this one?” (me thinking – I could like this job)

“ It’s a micro-content manager – you know using social media like Vine, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat – to shape and promote brands. I think it’ll be pretty challenging since new platforms and apps emerge almost every day – I’ll be figuring out how to create macro buzz with micro content – kind of like virtual Burma Shave.” (him)

“Ok- I’m on Twitter and I get using Twitter, but how does that translate into work?” (me thinking – seriously? )

“Well, if I take this job, I’ll be part of a team – actually multiple teams on the east and west coast – and we’ll sit around and create micro-content.” (him)

“That sounds … interesting. This is a real job, right?” (me – thinking  – well I’m not sure what I’m thinking since I’ve never heard of this)

“Of course- it’s why I got an MFA in digital media and technology- design work.” (him)

“Ok – last question? If this is it – the job  you want, what kind of clothes will you need?” (me- thinking $$ signs for work wardrobe)

“Geez, mom – what a question. Of course it’s not IT. No job is ever it-  but, no worries- dress is pretty casual at this office- tee-shirts and jeans are fine.”

Here’s what I’ve learned from my own son’s experience.

Shift does happen. He’s entering a career that I didn’t know existed when I first saw your youtube video, Scott and Karl. Preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist today means helping them be lifelong learning ready since we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

The “concept age” job  is real, Daniel. My son, and other young people, need to engage in a different kind of learning that leads them to acquire and use those six senses you identified.

  • Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument. Best of the six senses.
  • Design – Moving beyond function to engage the senses.
  • Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  • Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  • Play – Bringing humor and light-heartedness to business and products.
  • Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself.

Redesigned leadership, John, in the company my son’s poised to enter really focuses on affirming culture,comfort, creativity, and empathy as integral to their organization design. Our young people today enter new designs for work spaces that demand vastly different competencies than those of  the “cult of efficiency” and compliance created in 20th century schools to educate kids for factory work. Redesigning leadership is a new mindset for leading work differently. However, if schools continue to be “command and control” zones, our kids will be disadvantaged by an adherence to old models of management, curricula, assessment, and instruction. They won’t be prepared.

The best news to me as mom is that my son’s happy. He’s weathered an economic recession that’s had more impact on middle class college graduates than in any similar downturn. He’s got a job and it’s exactly what you predicted. Because of twitter and YT, I was able to access your thinking and it helped me to help him think about different options than doctor, lawyer, MBA, and engineer.

Now, what’s next?

Sincerely,

Pam

And Now… The Rest of Our Story: Part II

Well the future’s here. You all told me to expect it. Shift Happens. A Whole New Mind. Redesigning Leadership. In words and video you sent your messages to America and around the globe.  The 21st century world will be different for millennials educated in schools shaped and dominated by 20th century career educator-boomers like me. We must redesign, shift, and create a new world of learning to educate our young people.

A Whole New Mind

You educated me well. I’ve used your phrases in sessions with educators, the business community, parents, and students including my own son. I’ve shared that we must prepare our young people for careers that haven’t been invented yet. I’ve even gotten a laugh from audiences when I’ve referenced the MFA will be the new MBA, with attribution of course, to you, Daniel. I’ve spoken about new ways of leading that draw from social design to leverage the creativity of employees as you, John, describe so eloquently when you speak.

Now as a parent I understand the reality of what you all were saying as I’ve watched my son grow into a millennial adult. As Tom Agan wrote in the New York Times he has a different mindset about work.  He just landed his first real job – the kind with benefits and a 401K. The starting salary isn’t “to die for” as he says, but it’s, oh,  ten times my first salary as a teacher. The job? Well, Shift Happens – but more on that later.

Daniel, in 2005 most middle class parents, including me, were still thinking the college success recipe for our kids included doctor, lawyer, MBA, with a touch of engineering on the side. I read your book, took note, and shared it with my son – and every educator I could, including the School Board. I remember sitting down with Jason before his last year in high school.  I shared excerpts with him, reinforcing his strengths as an artist and his interest in multimedia, particularly documentary film-making. And, when he graduated with an MFA this past spring, I thought about the learning pathway you opened up for him to consider just before he headed from high school to the University of Virginia.

He finished as a liberal arts undergraduate who avoided STEM courses as if they were the plague – not because he lacks mathematical capability but because it’s just not his cup of tea. Instead, he left college with a great command of Spanish and a sprinkle of three or four other languages thrown into the mix.  He also could research, write, and create digital content with the best of his peers. But, he didn’t pursue programming, engineering, or commerce even though I urged him to at least consider a minor in something with a STEM focus. I hadn’t yet heard your phrase, John, when you put the A in STEM and added an arts twist. I also hadn’t heard the term creative used as a noun, as in Jason is a “creative.”

In 2009, he exited into in the worst job market for college grads in decades, if not ever. That’s when I realized life would be a bit different for him than when I began my teaching career. Instead of landing one of those dream consulting roles that kids like him tended to accept right out of college, he headed off to his “first jobs”, both part-time, one working in a boutique food market and the other creating digital content for a nonprofit foundation. At the same time, he managed to take a few digital media courses on the side. I kept asking, “what do you want to do?” He kept shrugging and saying he wanted to do something creative, preferably in the city.

He spent a year working while also building a digital portfolio for application into MFA programs across the country.  Just two years ago, I blogged about my angst when he moved from rural Virginia into the largest city in America where he enrolled in the Design and Technology MFA program at Parsons.

While in the MFA program, he did what many grad students do. He landed an internship in Manhattan working with a media firm. Leveraging his video-editing skills (thank you, National History Day), he continued freelancing with the firm after the internship ended.

I kept asking as he applied for jobs, “so what do you anticipate you’ll be doing?” He kept telling me, “something with design and media, Mom.”

I confess I had no clue what that really meant. I kept worrying as I watched him apply, consider, and either reject or be rejected. He kept freelancing and I kept worrying as moms do about student loans, benefits, and his own retirement one day. When he started @thepuparazzi on Instagram, I thought it was creative but couldn’t see how it fit into a work portfolio. I suspect today that it helped him show others what he can do.

I realize in 2013 that much of what our kids need to learn today is not what we once thought they needed to know as outlined in the last one hundred years of school curricula. We need graduates who are transdiscplinary boundary spanners, mindful thinkers and leaders,  creative solution-finders, and analytical problem solvers. Our graduates increasingly need to both L- and R-shift in the workforce.

Now I wonder what the 22nd century will bring. Any thoughts on that?