Bryce Trum sat up in his twin bed at 6:55 am His day at LSU was about to start at 7:00 am and his classroom was only five feet away.
But when he logged into the Zoom meeting on his computer, his attention was immediately drawn to his guitar.
Six ropes were enough to take his gaze away from the task at hand. Six strings of his acoustic guitar leaning against its eggshell white walls became more appealing than listening to the voice coming from the Alienware laptop on his desk. The instrument created an easy distraction for Trum, and avoiding his online computer course has become second nature.
Trum was not alone as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed students across the country in the greatest e-learning experience to date. In a survey of 500 students in 22 states, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that two-thirds of them believed they had learned less by having to go online during the height of the pandemic. Four in five students said they were more distracted at home than they would have been in a classroom. Other issues included social isolation and difficulty interacting with other students.
“It was a tsunami that no one saw coming,” Professor Bernard McCoy said when the study was published last July. “Suddenly, it loomed in front of us and overwhelmed us. And so we had to learn to swim.
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But McCoy also found that as students got used to the virtual world, more than half of them said they would like to have distance learning options in the future. Students appreciated the flexibility, saying they were better able to adapt their schedules to fit their jobs and that online education saved them time and money.
The shift to online education happened suddenly when COVID-19 surged in the spring of 2020, and administrators and faculty were just as surprised – and unprepared – as their students for the change.
Nicole Cotton, a tech specialist at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, said her school had rushed to give teachers advice on how to teach in the new environment.
“We were doing workshops online when most of our teachers had never taught online,” she said.
Kaci Bergeron, director of the Nicholls State Student Access Center, said the students who struggled the most were the deaf and blind.
In interviews with current and former students of various specialties at LSU, some said they have had good experiences with online courses. They included a recent graduate who felt better prepared for a workforce that also relies more on remote activities and a kinesiology student who used the extra time and freedom to travel.
However, others missed the feeling of being in college, such as a biology major who said working entirely from home made it feel like her first four semesters didn’t really exist. And Trum, the computer science student, said he would always avoid online learning given how easily it got distracted.
“It was definitely a brutal change that I wasn’t ready for,” Trum said. “If I had the option to register, I wouldn’t. If I had all the time in the world to prepare for it, I still wouldn’t.
Maintaining attention has proven difficult
Genevieve Bourgeois, a former LSU student who suffers from ADHD, also had problems concentrating and absorbing content through online courses. After completing the Spring 2020 semester online, Bourgeois chose to put his college experience on hiatus rather than pursue distance learning.
“I really, really, really didn’t like the online courses and the way they were structured,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I was getting the same education as if I was in person with these teachers.”
The disaster science student said she constantly struggles with distractions in her environment and online. Technical difficulties or a brief interruption were enough to break his focus on the material and let his mind wander. Bourgeois said his ability to control his thoughts is much stronger in a physical class.
“When you are at home and have a computer in front of you, it is a million times harder to concentrate than when you are forced to be sitting in a classroom surrounded by other people doing the exact same thing. thing you, ”she said. .
Now that most colleges have reverted to in-person learning, Bourgeois has decided to continue his education at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“Now we are in person, and I have good grades, I am able to concentrate, I am finally getting the education I wanted and deserved,” she said.
Ayatt Hemeida, the biology student who didn’t see the interior of a classroom until her fifth semester at LSU, said being online made the university blurry instead of the thrilling experience it had to offer. ‘she had considered.
First generation student Hemeida, 19, has only just figured out the meaning of the popular phrase: “Your college years are supposed to be the best of your life.
“I think being online has set a lot of us back,” she said, “and it left a lot of us under-prepared” for more advanced classes. “We haven’t really experienced or fully understood where we need to be at this point.”
Some have seen the benefits of online learning
Other students have found that going online has helped them learn to adapt to difficult situations, become more tech savvy, and maximize their opportunities outside of school.
Courtney Layne Brewer, former reporter and presenter for LSU’s Tiger TV, was at the forefront of coverage when the pandemic struck. After announcing the closure of the whole school, Brewer was left on her own.
She packed her Toyota Camry with a borrowed video camera and set off for the 12-hour drive to her parents’ house in Lexington, Ky. With over a month remaining in the semester, the audiovisual journalism student was faced with a new challenge: finding stories from home.
“I’ve always considered myself adaptable and quick on my feet,” she said, “but it was baptism of fire.”
When she graduated last May, Brewer had planned an internship in New York City, but it was canceled due to health risks. Fearing for her job prospects in a competitive industry, she applied for more than 60 jobs, eventually accepting a job as a sports reporter at a TV station in her hometown.
Although completing her studies remotely was stressful, Brewer said it helped her learn and grow before going through the rigorous job interview process.
“When I entered this interview, I considered myself even more prepared, even more adaptable, and it helped me work in fast-paced situations,” she said.
Brewer said online learning had helped build his reporting and tech skills, but that might not have been the case had the pandemic happened sooner. She was already at the end of her college career, taking higher level courses with fewer students.
Smaller classes made it easier for him to pay attention. But above all, she appreciated the content of her lessons.
“If I had attended a conference on Zoom, no attention span at all, but because I was in those 4000 level classes I was interested,” she said. “I had gotten to the point where I was no longer taking ECON. I cared about what I learned.
Other students said they liked online learning because of the freedom it gave them. Mackenzie Roberie, a kinesiology student at LSU, said online classes allowed her to spend more time doing what she loved.
“I could go to school from anywhere I had an internet connection,” she said.
Roberie was at the University of Montana participating in the national student exchange program when classes moved online. With the freedom to do her homework remotely, she wanted to explore the area to make the most of her time in Montana.
“I loved having online classes during my exchange just because of all the extra time I had to travel,” she said. “I think having online classes gave me more opportunities to explore and try new things.”
Roberie said most of his teachers chose to pre-record the lectures and post them online. Many students found watching videos of professors speaking in front of white walls tedious. But Roberie liked that this approach gave her the freedom to do her job when she wanted.
She said she had some difficulty managing her time effectively and encountered some technology issues early on, but overall felt that teaching online was just as effective as her in-person classes. . However, she faced a problem that bothered many science students.
“I think the labs were a lot harder online because normally you would have hands-on experience, but instead we would watch videos of the experiments or just read about them,” she said.
What impact will this have on the future
Although the online approach does not work as well for hands-on learning, many students are now more receptive to taking basic lecture courses online.
According to a Digital Learning Pulse survey, 73% of students said they would like to take more online courses in the future. Students also wanted to see greater use of technology and digital material in their in-person classes.
Universities are also investing more in educational technology, expanding online courses to reduce overhead costs and provide more flexible options.
As a result, experts say, the forced global experience will undoubtedly have significant impacts on the future of schooling.