Bryce Trum sat up in his twin bed at 6:55 a.m. His school day at LSU was about to start at 7 a.m. and his classroom was only five feet away.
But as he signed up for the Zoom meeting on his computer, his attention was immediately drawn to his guitar. Six strings on the acoustic guitar leaning against her eggshell white walls was more appealing than listening to the voice coming from the Alienware laptop on her desk. The instrument created an easy distraction for Trum, and avoiding his online computer class became second nature.
Trum was not alone as the COVID-19 pandemic propelled students across the country into the biggest experiment yet with online learning. In a survey of 500 students in 22 states, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that two-thirds felt they learned less from having to move online during the height of the pandemic. Four out of five students reported being more distracted at home than they would have been in class. 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 was looming in front of us and overwhelming us. And so we had to learn to swim.
But McCoy also found that as students get used to going virtual, more than half said they would like remote learning options in the future. Students appreciated the flexibility, saying they were better able to adapt their schedules to fit their jobs and that teaching online saved them time and money.
The shift to online teaching happened suddenly when COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020, and administrators and faculty were just as surprised — and unprepared — as their students for the change.
Nicole Cotton, a technology specialist at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, said her school was quick 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 Student Access Center at Nicholls State, said the students who struggled the most were deafblind.
In interviews with current and former students in various majors at LSU, some said they had good experiences with online courses. Among them were a recent graduate who felt better prepared for a workforce that also relies more on remote activities and a kinesiology student who made use of the extra time and freedom to travel.
However, others missed the feeling of being in college, such as a biology student who said working entirely from home made her first four semesters feel like she didn’t really exist. And Trum, the computer science student, said he would always avoid online learning given how easily he was distracted.
“It was definitely a sharp change that I wasn’t ready for,” Trum said. “If I had the chance to sign up, I wouldn’t. If I had all the time in the world to prepare for it, I still wouldn’t do it.
Geneviève Bourgeois, a former LSU student who suffers from ADHD, also had issues concentrating and absorbing content through online classes. After completing the Spring 2020 semester online, Bourgeois opted to put his college experience on hold rather than continue learning remotely.
“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 both in her environment and online. Technical difficulties or a brief interruption were enough to break his concentration 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’re at home with a computer in front of you, it’s a million times harder to concentrate than when you’re forced to sit in a classroom surrounded by other people doing the exact same thing. thing you,” she said. .
Now that most colleges have returned to in-person learning, Bourgeois decided to continue his education at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“Now we’re in person, and I’m getting good grades, I’m able to concentrate, I’m finally getting the education I wanted and deserved,” she said.
Ayatt Hemeida, the biology student who didn’t see inside a classroom until her fifth semester at LSU, said being online made college blurry instead of the thrilling experience it was. she had considered. Hemeida, 19 and a first-generation student, barely understands the meaning of the common 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.”
Other students have found that moving online helps them learn to adapt in adverse situations, become more technologically savvy, and maximize their opportunities outside of school.
Courtney Layne Brewer, a former reporter and anchor for LSU’s Tiger TV, was at the forefront of coverage when the pandemic hit. After breaking the news of the entire school being closed, Brewer was left on her own.
She packed her Toyota Camry with a borrowed video camera and set off for a 12-hour drive to her parents’ home in Lexington, Kentucky. With more than a month left in the semester, the broadcast journalism student faced a new challenge: finding stories from home.
“I always thought of myself as adaptable and quick on my feet,” she said, “but it was a baptism of fire.”
When she graduated last May, Brewer had planned an internship in New York, 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 position as a sports reporter at a television 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 walked into that interview, I thought of myself as even more prepared, even more adaptable, and that helped me work in fast-paced situations,” she said.
Brewer said online learning has helped her build her reporting and technology skills, but that might not have been the case if the pandemic had happened sooner. She was already at the end of her college career, taking higher-level courses with fewer students.
Smaller classes made her easier to pay attention to. But above all, she liked the content of her classes.
“If I had attended a lecture on Zoom, no attention span, but because I was in these 4000-level courses, I was interested,” she said. “I had gotten to the point where I was no longer taking ECON. I cared about what I was learning.
Other students said they enjoyed online learning because of the freedom it gave them. Mackenzie Roberie, a senior kinesiology student at LSU, said teaching online allows her to spend more time doing what she loves.
“I could go to school from anywhere I had an internet connection,” she said.
Roberie was at the University of Montana and 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 opted to pre-record the lessons and post them online. Many students thought watching videos of professors talking in front of blank walls was tedious. But Roberie liked that this approach gave her the freedom to do her job whenever she wanted.
She said she struggled to manage her time effectively and ran into technology issues at first, but overall she found teaching online to be just as effective as her classes. in person. 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 were watching videos of experiments or just reading about them,” she said.
Although the online approach does not work as well for hands-on learning, many students are now more receptive to taking basic classroom 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 materials in their in-person classes.
Universities are also investing more in educational technology, expanding online courses to reduce overhead and provide more flexible options.
As a result, experts say, the forced global experiment will undoubtedly have significant impacts on the future of schooling.
Masie O’Toole, Kirby Koch and Donald Fountain are writers with LSU Manship School News Service.