by: Sarah Grunau
While some studies indicate negative effects, students see the benefits of online learning.
SAN MARCOS, TX- According to recent studies, students pursuing higher education are experiencing mental health and academic challenges after a year in educational solitude. However, students from Texas State University have reported positive outcomes of their experiences with online learning.
This fall, colleges, and universities around the US have been returning to in-person classes and campus events while continuing to navigate COVID safety protocols. Not only has the transition to in-person learning after a year of remote classes impacted students’ mental health, but their academic achievement as well.
After a year away, 2021 Texas State University seniors are indulging in a fully-immersive end-of-college lifestyle. This semester, last-year students will have the opportunity to participate in a fully in-person ring ceremony, and a 100% capacity commencement ceremony.
Undergraduate enrollment of students dropped significantly across most ethnic backgrounds for the fall 2021 semester, likely resulting from nationwide economic downturn. “A year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see significant nationwide declines in undergraduate students,” said Doug Shapiro, Executive Director, National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
COVID cases peaked around July 10th of this year, with 250,000+ cases reported as a 7-day average. Cases are slowly declining, but the discovery of variants has led to unpredictability in the spread of the virus, making it essential for universities and school districts to be prepared for a COVID outbreak. Online education has room for improvement, particularly in the areas of social development and learning outcomes, but this method is no longer an option, it is a necessity, according to Clare Scott of hult.edu.
Results of a study conducted by students from Annenberg Brown University concluded that “as a result of disruptions to schooling in Spring 2020, the average student would begin the 2020-2021 academic year with approximately half of the typical growth in math learning that they would realize in a typical year.”
This learning loss is evident amongst postsecondary students and educators.
“Engagement was very difficult. When you’re in your home space as a learner you have all those obligations right there in front of you,” said Sonya Armstrong of the College of Education at Texas State University.
Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, postsecondary students had to rethink their idea of college education within the span of a few weeks and adjust to online classes, a change that was practiced by 95% of colleges in the US.
The transition to online learning was not easy, as most students had not anticipated being stuck behind a computer screen for a significant portion of their college career. By mid-April 2020, there was a high percentage increase in the number of young adults who reported spending more time on screens and less time outdoors, according to the study COVID-19: Public Compliance with and Public Support for Stay-at-Home Mitigation Strategies. Data from the CDC, published in June 2020, also revealed that negative mental and behavioral health symptoms were reported by 74.9% of respondents aged 18-24 and 51.9% aged 25-44.
“Over time I started to feel isolated,” said Yovani Valdes, a Junior at Texas State University. “It forced me to just stay at home without ever leaving or even going on campus.”
In fact, college students around the world reported similar effects to that of Valdes. According to a study conducted by savethestudent.org, 94% of UK university students have been affected by COVID-19. Of this percentage, 66% have struggled with pandemic-related mental health issues.
“The anxiety of all of this is just incredible, it makes it very difficult to focus,” said Armstrong.
While some students have reported being unhappy with the quality of their online education, many are beginning to see the benefits that remote education brings.
“I wasn’t stressed about getting to classes on time, retaining information was easy and I could do it from anywhere,” said Riley Seago, a senior at Texas State University.
A recent Research Institute of America study has also reported that eLearning increases retention rates 25% to 60%, while traditional face-to-face instruction stalls around 8-10%.
In a 2021 CNBC article written by Abigail Johnson Hess, surveyed students have reported advantages to online learning such as flexibility to complete work at their own leisure and being able to avoid racial microaggressions. Hess reported that 70% percent of Black students and 54% of Hispanic students say they were able to learn new material online and in-person, compared with 46% of white students.
According to an article analyzing e-Learning statistics by techjury.net, “a good percentage of American graduates (52%) and undergraduates (39%) consider online learning better than classroom learning.”
“I actually feel like I received a better education online than in person, it made things much easier and more efficient. It even allowed me to not stress as much,” said David Rodriguez, a senior and transfer student at Texas State University.
Rodriguez transferred to Texas State University during the height of COVID and has spent nearly every semester in the online learning environment.
Many students with similar learning experiences to Rodriguez’s have found workarounds to meet new people while attending classes from home. Last year, students from Texas State University utilized GroupMe, a popular group messaging application to create a group chat for transfer students to safely socialize during the pandemic.
The GroupMe chat “Texas State Social” is still active and has since gained 368 members. “I moved to San Marcos during the pandemic and when I first arrived, I had no friends. Meeting people with a similar situation through the Texas State Social GroupMe chat helped a lot,” said Ethan Henseleit, a junior at Texas State University.