Chapter 8: COVID and learning
8.3.2 Communication and literacy in the classroom during COVID-19 (research essay)
English 102, April 2021
Human interaction is a necessity. It is essential for individuals to interact with others and be sociable, as that is what humans are meant to do. Communication in general allows individuals to grow throughout their youth and continue to develop as young teenagers into adults. For some students, all ages and grades, it is essential for in-person communication and hands on learning to be successful and to expand their knowledge, not only in the aspect of school, but growth as an individual. With the current state that our country is at, and has been for the past year, this concept and idea of what “normal” schooling is supposed to look like, has been completely turned upside down.
Being a senior in highschool at the beginning of the pandemic shutdown in March 2020, I was excited to get an extended spring break. Two extra weeks seemed like such a nice break and add on to the end of a stressful year, with the preparation for college. which was just around the corner. What I did not know back then, was that my excitement off of school would later turn into something that I wish could be taken back. Being a student-athlete involved in a spring sport, I did not know that something I had looked forward to since my freshman year would be taken away from me in the blink of an eye. Although it might seem like something so little to others, it was hard to accept the fact that I had already played the last game of a sport I loved so much, without even knowing it. I had been playing lacrosse since I was in seventh grade, dedicating all of my free time to it, in hopes to play in college. With the season that never started, I did not get to fulfill this dream of mine. On top of this, school was completely online and seemed to be harder than ever. A lot of my high school teachers began overcompensating for the fact that we were online, giving us more homework than we had ever had. There was no communication with my classmates anymore, or even my teachers, really, as many had lost the motivation and desire to even join a zoom call. Fast forward a year later, being a college student now, I, as well as many others my age, are still in the same situation. Having all of my classes online this semester, it has been very hard to meet anyone as well as even interact virtually with students over zoom.
Although it hasn’t been too bad of a transition for me individually, online learning has changed education and the schooling system as a whole. Being totally dependent on technology, teachers and students have been forced to adapt to situations that were only thought of as optional before COVID. Not only has the “classroom” environment changed, but the way individuals communicate with each other and the ability for them to do so has been affected. As we all know, communication, specifically between students and teachers, can be a very important factor in being successful in a class. Being completely online, it is very hard to have that personal connection with not only your peers, but also your teachers and professors. Online learning is especially difficult for those who struggle in school as it is, but it is even harder to set aside the time to try and fix the areas in which you are weak because of the disconnect between students and teachers. This divide between students and teachers, individuals with their peers, and the use of technology has had many effects on what school looks like today. Another thing that I think is very important to address that has been affected during this time is the mental, physical and social health aspects of an individual’s life, specifically students. Some students do not have the motivation to get out of bed each day, let alone complete their schoolwork. Many students’ mental and physical health has depleted and changed based on how our world is during this time.
One huge research question I have regarding online learning and communication during COVID is: How does online learning affect a student’s mental, social and physical health? Although this seems like a broad question, I think that this is a question that is very real and very present today considering the situation of our world. Another research question that I have is: How does online learning impact student teacher relationships during COVID-19 and how does that affect students? A third and final research question that I have is: How effective do things such as Blackboard, Zoom, Canvas, etc. work for student teacher communication and what efforts have been made to adjust to the new learning/teaching environment?
Research Question One
Communication with individuals, specifically those who are developing, is very important for the mental, social and physical health of one’s self. With the pandemic and the national shutdown that happened last March, many individuals have been struggling with their mental health, especially those who have already been diagnosed with things such as depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. The instant change to their daily life and routine has been and can be a major stressor for not only these individuals, but for anyone. In the article “Student Mental Health during and after COVID-19: How Can Schools Identify Youth Who Need Support?”, presented by the American Psychological Association, this idea is discussed and elaborated on by introducing the need for screening students during this time, and talking about ways that help, support and prevent certain actions that can be presented to students remotely. Screening for this type of thing involves a questionnaire that is presented to individual students regarding their emotions and their classroom behaviors, as well as their attitude and motivation towards school. These tests are used to identify change in students’ emotions, which allow counselors and school psychologists to provide help to these students and to correctly identify what struggles they are facing. With these resources, it has been shown that the mental stability of students before the hit of COVID-19 would show that about 15 to 20 percent of students as a whole, could be identified as needing some sort of support or help through the screening tests (“Student Mental Health during and after COVID-19: How Can Schools Identify Youth Who Need Support?”). Since then, it is certain that this number is higher because of the emotional impact and fallout of the pandemic worldwide.
Not only does the disconnect between students and teachers have an affect mentally, but the social aspect as well. According to Valerie Strauss, of the Washington Post, the lack of face-to-face interaction has affected the stability, motivation and relationships between students and their teachers. In her article “How Relationships between Teachers and Students Are Being Tested in Covid-19 Crisis.”, she mentions the importance of this personal connection between student and teachers by stating, “If you don’t have a relationship with them, they won’t learn. In middle school, it’s really a part of development. They want that internal motivation, to do it for someone who really cares about their success.” This is a prime example of how the social aspect of students’ lives are being affected negatively because of the pandemic. It is especially important for younger students to keep up with their work because not only are they growing, but these are crucial years of development for kids that project the rest of their development all throughout adolescence and adulthood.
Physical health and the wellbeing of individuals has also been affected by COVID. In “Mental, Physical Health Has Suffered During Pandemic Lockdowns”, written by Dennis Thompson, he comments on how there has been a decline in physical activity, which has most likely led to the weight gain and decline of individuals physical appearance and diet. With nothing open, many people became glued to their phones, televisions, and other devices, becoming reliant on these things for entertainment. With no motivation to get up and engage in physical activity, either by choice or because of the closing of gyms, many people experienced weight gain: “Weight gain is directly tied to caloric intake and expenditure. Even though we might be eating less food outside the home and possibly making better food choices, there is more time for snacking when you are stuck at home” (Thompson). Being stuck at home, the chances of snacking, especially when using technology, has a huge correlation to weight gain and a higher calorie intake, thus causing weight gain.
These three aspects of health work hand-in-hand with each other and usually when one is changed or affected, the other two are in some way as well. Thompson also adds in his article that not only were individuals worried about their overall health, but also that of those who are around them: “The majority of the people who took our survey reported they were not only concerned for their overall health and safety with the virus, but also concerned for their loved ones and family friends.” Individuals that took part in the survey also commented on how their sleeping habits have taken a toll, with 44 percent of surveyed individuals having negative sleep schedule changes, while only a small 10 percent have said they have improved (Thompson). Sleeping also plays a vital role in the performance and appearance of individuals daily. Studies in this article suggest that in order to stay healthy mentally, socially and physically, there needs to be a schedule that mimics their usual daily pre-covid routine.
Stress is another factor that impacts one’s mental, social, and physical health. An article, “Stress in Students after Lockdown Due to COVID-19 Threat and the Effects of Attending Online Classes”, composed and presented by Ambreen Fatima and Utsav Raj, reveals results and statistics from students in school during the lockdown. It was reported that, as expected, many students experienced stress or were overwhelmed with the switch to online during the lockdown: “…found that more than 50% of students are in stress and their mental health is not good” (Fatima and Raj). In addition to this, there was an overwhelming 78.4 percent of students who would prefer to be offline and in person, versus the 21.6 who preferred online, which is not surprising, considering the elevated stress levels of students since online classes (Fatima and Raj). As a conclusion to this, it is clear that because of COVID-19, there has been a change in student’s mental, physical and social health, as well as regarding the many factors that go into these things.
Research Question Two
Another idea that branches off of my first research question regards how these relationships are affected. Being a college student during this, I experience first hand how these relationships have changed. Transferring from high school to college, in general, can be a big change for individuals. The change itself factors in a lot of different things such as being independent and alone, away from home, more people, different environments, harder classes, etc. that are obstacles for incoming college freshmen. With COVID, these factors are much harder to adapt to. Having no classes in person this second semester, establishing a relationship with any teacher or professor is next to impossible, especially at a new university. Communication with these teachers over Zoom is the new norm, something no one would have ever even imagined would happen. Forming and building relationships with professors online is very hard especially when most students have their cameras and mics off the entire class. Even with my one in-person lab first semester, communication with my professor and forming a relationship with my TA was so hard. Masks and the six feet social distancing make it almost impossible to create that bond that students would, and did have with their teachers, pre-COVID. Looking back on my first semester of senior year before COVID, I can see the impact that it had on me as not only a student, but as a person. Feeling comfortable with my teachers allowed me to succeed and achieve the grades that I wanted, especially because I wasn’t really nervous about asking them questions or for help. Going into second semester senior year, this idea stayed the same because although we had switched to online, I had no new teachers and I was already taking these classes in person prior to the switch. The Fall 2020 semester is what was difficult. Attending a school as large as Cleveland State, knowing very few individuals, making these connections with not only my teachers was hard, but also with my peers. I feel like this is something that not only I have struggled with, but many of my fellow classmates as well. I know a lot of students learn better and succeed when they are in a comfortable, safe environment, and COVID has made this environment very hard to establish. With this being said, my second focus is on the research question: How does online learning impact student teacher relationships during COVID-19 and how does that affect students?
In the article “The Role of Teacher Relationships in the Lives of Students”, written by Katia Fredriksen and Jean Rhodes, the idea of academic achievement in correlation to student-teacher relationships is discussed. The authors focus on truly how important it is for this connection to take place, as many students rely on this relationship for success. Not only this, but having a strong relationship with a teacher, usually someone you look up to, can affect and impact the way you perceive school, as well as your motivation in certain subjects you may not usually like: “Finally, supportive relationships with teachers may augment students’ motivation to learn and actively participate in subject domains that have traditionally held little interest for them.” (Fredriksen and Rhodes). Lack of this, as I mentioned from my own personal experience, can cause decreased motivation, as well as loss of interest in school altogether for some individuals. As a student taking classes in higher education at a university, this concern is not as important because college is not something for everyone, and it is not required. For younger students though, this is a concern. Losing motivation in grade school, even the beginning of high school can cause problems throughout the rest of one’s education, especially because it is usually required to have either a high school diploma or GED, Graduate Equivalency Degree, to do anything later on in your life.
Fredriksen and Rhodes also mention how relationships with teachers have an impact on psychological adjustment for students of all ages. From a young grade, such as kindergarten, forming a secure relationship with a teacher usually mimics the relationship that children have with their mother, this secure attachment relationship. This establishment from the very beginning is very crucial for an individual’s development all around. Continuing onto students who are in middle school and elementary school, this relationship with teachers usually has a positive impact on their emotional development and mindset overall. With older students, the impact that teachers have on their psychological attachment is very large: “Other researchers have emphasized the impact of positive teacher relationships on students’ social development, with this support serving a regulatory function in children’s and adolescents’ development of not only academic and behavioral skills but also emotional skills” (Fredriksen and Rhodes). With our current situation, the impact on these relationships have been tremendous. There is no in person communication. There is no establishing and building relationships face-to-face. These things, if done at all, are formed across Zoom. Adjusting from a high school student to a college student online was hard enough, and I have been exposed to teachers all throughout my years in kindergarten to senior year of high school. The impact that this has and will have on the younger students is worrisome. As we begin to get used to this new norm, the focus has been on maintaining and finding a way to build this relationship from an at home environment, outside of the traditional classroom.
Research Question Three
With the sudden change to the classroom and learning environment, one thing I have had trouble with is finding and maintaining an area that mimics the traditional classroom environment. Being at home, there are distractions everywhere. These distractions include things like dogs, other siblings, parents, phones, etc. that keep me from focusing either during my lectures, or when it comes to homework, studying and procrastination. With online school, there have been many efforts made by both teachers and students in hopes to present and continue courses that give the feeling of a normal classroom environment. A third question I have regarding this topic of communication during COVID is: How effective do things such as Blackboard, Zoom, Canvas, etc. work for student teacher communication and what efforts have been made to adjust to the new learning/teaching environment?
Personally, I use Blackboard and Zoom for my classes. I really like Blackboard because it is easy to navigate my assignments, recorded lectures and notes that are posted. I also can communicate with my teachers on this browser through the announcements tab, which usually explains my assignments for that week and the days that they are due. Zoom allows me to speak with my professors “face-to-face”, but sometimes does not work very well. I have had trouble with the browser crashing at times, but overall, I think this has been a good substitute to being in a traditional classroom. As for an ideal classroom environment, I try to focus when I’m in my lectures by turning my phone off and eliminating all other distractions.
The article, “Engagement Matters: Student Perceptions on the Importance of Engagement Strategies in the Online Learning Environment”, written by Florence Martin and Doris U. Bolliger, elaborates on this idea of how important an “at home classroom” environment is. It is important to have an area where you can maintain focus in your schoolwork because engagement in classes usually leads to a better outcome in the course: “Student engagement in online learning is very important because online learners seem to have fewer opportunities to be engaged with the institution. Hence, it is essential to create multiple opportunities for student engagement in the online environment” (Martin and Bolliger). Martin and Bolliger also talk about the three basic engagement techniques that have been used to keep students focused online: student-content, student-instructor, and student-student. These interactions usually take place via Zoom, Blackboard, or other browsers similar to these two. Another article, “Trust, Growth Mindset, and Student Commitment to Active Learning in a College Science Course”, supports this same idea, hitting on how important active learning is, even in this online environment. Staying engaged in online learning through active participation has shown that there has been an increase in student performance: “…a meta-analysis attributes a 10–12% gain in student performance when active learning is present to factors such as increased preclass preparation and more accurate completion of assignments” (Cavanagh, Andrew J. et al.). Using applications that allow the closest thing to a physical interaction with your teachers and peers is proven to have higher success rates than those who do not utilize these tools.
With traditional classrooms no longer being a thing, many teachers have opted to create a room that mimics the usual classroom, in order to spark engagement and focus for themselves, as well as their students. The article, “For Teachers and Students, Remote Learning During COVID-19 Poses Challenges, Stokes Creativity”, discusses the challenges and difficulties that have been brought about because of the virus. Some teachers have even continued to use their traditional in-class materials to teach their lessons: “Teachers have turned their homes into classrooms, using materials like chart paper and whiteboards to communicate their lessons over the internet” (Shakya, Tenzin et al.). Teachers and students have also been provided programs on their computers to help stimulate the normal classroom experience, which has helped a lot of students adapt to the sudden changes. For some, these changes have been life changing and have been beyond helpful, while those who do not have access to technology have struggled (Kuhfeld, Megan, et al.).
Communication and literacy in the classroom during this time of the pandemic is very important, as mentioned all throughout my research paper. This topic is very important to discuss because of how relevant it is today, as our country has never really experienced anything like this before. It also is important to discuss on behalf of being a student in today’s world. Being a student and being held to a high standard from your parents, peers, teachers, other authority figures, etc. individuals often experience emotional, mental and physical tolls on their body and overall health because of how much stress and weight they have on their shoulders. Looking into this topic, with the specific research questions I had, I was surprised to see how high the statistics for these things were, mostly because they go unnoticed. A lot of students who experience depression and anxiety have had a harder time adapting in comparison to those who haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, but with the shutdown these numbers have gone up and a lot of people, including teachers and professors have lost motivation altogether. Hopefully with things looking up, these numbers will go back down as we become more adapted to our current situation and what the future holds. I think it is important to keep looking into this, and how much of an effect that communication, in general, but specifically in school and classroom environments has on the individual.
To finish, I wanted to look at this new stage of online learning as a secondary discourse. A discourse, described in James Gee’s “What is Literacy”, can be looked at as an identity kit or a way of instruction as to how to act (18). From this, there are two subtopics, primary and secondary discourse. The way that I have looked at learning, the primary discourse would be the traditional, in person classes. This new secondary discourse that we have had to adapt to is the online aspect, something that we learned later on in life, and that we weren’t necessarily prepared for, especially under these circumstances and conditions. Understanding discourses and using them in literacy can help you better communicate with individuals and understand them, especially during a time like this.
ABC News, ABC News Network, For Teachers and Students, Remote Learning During COVID-19 Poses Challenges, Stokes Creativity – ABC News (go.com)
Bolliger, Doris U., Florence Martin.“Engagement Matters: Student Perceptions on the Importance of Engagement Strategies in the Online Learning Environment.” L_1092_Martin (ed.gov)
Gee, James Paul. “What is Literacy.” Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning across languages and cultures (1998)
Fredriksen, Katia, Jean Rhodes. “The Role of Teacher Relationships in the Lives of Students.” ndyd103chap04 (rhodeslab.org)
Kuhfeld, Megan, et al. “How Is COVID-19 Affecting Student Learning?” Brookings, Brookings, 3 Dec. 2020, www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2020/12/03/how-is-covid-19-affecting-student-learning/
Strauss, Valerie. “Perspective | How Relationships between Teachers and Students Are Being Tested in Covid-19 Crisis.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Apr. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/04/22/how-relationships-between-teachers-students-are-being-tested-covid-19-crisis/
“Student Mental Health during and after COVID-19: How Can Schools Identify Youth Who Need Support?” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/student-mental-health
Raj, Utsav and Fatima, Ambreen, Stress in Students after Lockdown Due to COVID-19 Threat and the Effects of Attending Online Classes. (April 23, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3584220 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3584220
Thompson, Dennis. “Mental, Physical Health Has Suffered during Pandemic Lockdowns.” UPI, UPI, 29 Oct. 2020, www.upi.com/Health_News/2020/10/29/Mental-physical-health-has-suffered-during-pandemic-lockdowns/5871604010980/
Trust, Growth Mindset, and Student Commitment to Active Learning in a College Science Course. Andrew J. Cavanagh, Xinnian Chen, Meghan Bathgate, Jennifer Frederick, David I. Hanauer, and Mark J. Graham. CBE—Life Sciences Education 2018 17:1. cbe.17-06-0107 (lifescied.org)