Image from Unsplash by Gregoire Herve Bazin

The struggling post-secondary students of the pandemic

From study sessions in the library with your friends to breakout rooms over Zoom.

Student life has drastically changed overnight, to a fully online format. The social aspect of university is a vital part of the university experience. Students are expected to adapt to a new system of schooling overnight and still maintain the same grade point average. Studying and learning strategies that have been personally adapted and mastered over years of schooling now have to be changed and adapted to a whole new climate. The research below has been sourced from 27 students who responded to a Google form designed to find and weed out the problems these students are facing in this new climate. These problems turned into 13 major pillars which are explained below. An ethics form was acquired before any testing had begun.

Friendships

The pandemic has challenged several friendships. Students have indicated that they feel very isolated and alone, lacking their friends and teachers’ interactions. Since the pandemic, several have claimed that their partnerships are on the rocks. Social circles have been greatly diminished and many partnerships have been impaired by the lack of intimacy of simply seeing them or hanging out with them. There are numerous different kinds of friendships and partnerships, some of which involve more personal conduct than others. So, depending on what sort of interactions individuals have with each other will depend as to whether or not their relationship can survive the pandemic. Having friends or peers in post-secondary school there was a certainty that they would be able to see each other every week because of the schedule of classes, from there they could study after class or hangout or go to the bar, etc. Now, this certainty is up in the air, as Zoom sessions aren’t personal and don’t provide people with the same stimulation as being in person does.

Relationships

Since the pandemic, many of my participants indicated that their relationships have either turned into a long-distance kind, have ended, or have moved in together. A lot of student relationships are the result of school, creating delicate connections that have formed due to their near proximity to each other. These ties are disrupted as the students go home. To keep it afloat through the pandemic, many are forced to move to a long-distance relationship. Some personalities are more suited than others for long distances, but those that aren’t reported that their break-up was triggered by the pandemic. The long-distance has already thrown delicate relationships off the brink. The tension of the pandemic and evolving mental health issues are both influences that play into relationships, as these current stresses produce problems that can seep into their relationships.

Dating

Dating has become an enormous challenge since the pandemic. It’s daunting to go out and meet people. Dating applications like Tinder or Bumble can help introduce individuals, but the motivation for most is smothered with the possibility of not actually meeting them. The pandemic has made dating even more complicated for some people who already have an initial fear of intimacy, both physically and mentally. Nevertheless, the pandemic has changed the way partnerships usually develop. Many people are having longer conversations on the phone and as a result, delve into more intimate and deeper conversations than they normally would have had held off for a couple of months.

Communication

Communication between people has been dramatically affected by the pandemic. Many participants mentioned that they have found it’s difficult to communicate their thoughts or feelings over the phone. People typically rely on body language to interpret language and tone. It can be a difficult job for many to communicate how one thinks, as well as read certain signals through text or the phone. Text messaging alone can carry a certain tone that is not intended. So, since it is harder to interpret the tone and meaning, people are more sensitive to receiving messages. Increased screen time has been found to cause fatigue among individuals, and more than ever, students max out their average screen time for both school and social life. Making it tougher and less motivating for friends to maintain contact.

Interactions

The experiences happening in the pandemic have changed dramatically, both in-person and online. Individuals are more mindful of who they speak to and who they touch. An embrace turns into a nod of the head or a bump of the hand. It wasn’t until the pandemic that we realized we have taken these intimate interactions for granted.

Lack of Motivation

Some of the students feel as if their experience this year isn’t as engaging or personal, and that’s why there’s a lack of motivation. There’s not much interest in it and they feel less productive. They note that classes sound more optional than ever before and they forget deadlines.

Workspaces

53% of my participants stated that they do all or most of their work in their bedrooms and do not have a designated area to work in. This is challenging for many individuals as they are accustomed to having distinct buildings and environments for specific activities. The gym is for exercise, the kitchen is for cooking and eating, the bedroom is for sex and sleep, and learning in the classroom, etc. Students need to merge all of these environments into one now. Their space for relaxation and tranquility is now also their place of work. This presents a challenge because everything is now happening in the same room, so it’s difficult to change mindsets. In a pre-pandemic, the switching of mindsets would come along naturally when switching from class to class or from building to building. Students now have to force that change in order to switch tasks and stay productive. The act of walking from one class to another is transitioning the mind to be done with the first task and to get prepared for the next. Commuting from home to campus allows you time to think about class and get in that headspace before you actually enter so by the time you do you are ready to learn. This tool of transitioning is lost when you transition from your bed to your desk which could be two feet away.

Staying indoors all day is exhausting and puts stress on the mind and body, it has been proven that fresh air and exercise are important for one's mental health. With that most students are getting no outside stimulation and that stimulation is actually important, in order to have a healthy and productive day. Students miss going to places and doing activities. Doing something other than studying and sitting at home gives people purpose, and without it, school is rather demotivating.

Unhealthy Habits

My participants mentioned that they aren’t sleeping properly, not eating healthy, not exercising, and not going outside. The pandemic came all at once it was a very sudden event. When things happen very suddenly changes need to happen fast. Students need to adapt to this new form of education, and for my participants, this adaptation is taking over one’s own wellbeing. Students are more focused on their studies than on their own well-being this year. They reported that their workloads are just too large for them to balance both school and their well-being.

Working 24/7

Many students have mentioned that they feel like they are working 24/7, and when they aren’t doing work they feel guilty for it. When schools went remote a lot of things changed, one of the biggest things being a lack of commute and lack of things to do other than school. So because students have this extra spare time to spend they use it on their assignments. This isn’t necessarily healthy because the body and the brain need rest and stimulation from different things. There was a break from daily work, a moment to transition between different head-spaces in face-to-face learning while traveling from class to class. It also stimulated other areas of the brain, such as enjoying your mates or going out on pub nights, meaning you can take a break from the workload which is something that students this year are suffering from. It’s a part of the college experience that they miss out on. This part of college is what balances the school tension out and makes it tolerable and feasible.

Increased screen time

More than ever, people are stuck to their screens, and now less than ever, people have time away from their screens. Since most of their learning and now the rest of their social life is on their devices. If they need to limit their screen time, there is a fair possibility that they will reduce their level of social interaction instead. It’s like fulfilling one desire you need to frustrate the other.

Lack of structure

This year, students felt unstructured and their thoughts are all over the place, they don’t know what to concentrate on. Their habits and practices have shifted abruptly over the years, and they need to build new ones. While at the same time performing the most important and emotionally taxing schooling they have to date while preserving their social wellbeing from inside of their home.

Lack of positive distractions

There are such things as negative and positive distractions. Positive distractions are things that distract people for a short period of time. Negative distractions attract focus and trap it in place. A positive diversion can take place in a coffee shop or a library to watch people walk in and out and go on their day. This attracts enough attention to stimulate senses, but not enough to deem them unproductive. It’s hard to always engage fully in your job with minimal distractions. But positive ones are fine, if you don’t have positive ones, you’ll probably be tempted to use negative distractions. Now that’s different for everybody, so it might be anything like starting a Netflix show and then getting locked in and bingeing a series. You needed some kind of escape from your work so you switched on the TV to do that but it held your focus longer than you could afford.

Teaching themselves the content

Many students feel like they teach the material themselves. Online learning is significantly more autonomous and requires more discipline than face-to-face learning. This year seems to be more about just getting through the year than really enjoying or retaining knowledge.

These are just some of the problems students are facing this year, this study was a result of my thesis project that was looking into how intimacy has changed over the pandemic in students. You can see my case study here. Over the next few weeks, I will be using this information and research to design a solution that will hopefully be helpful for students to deal with the problems of remote learning. Every reasonable effort has been made to correct any issues or false data. Please report any errors to alex@blechta.com or if you would like to chat :)

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