The COVID Curve: How the Pandemic is Affecting our Learning

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Ever since Penn State went online in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, huge adjusts have been made by professors and students to continue classes during this unusual time. Although there are some in person class this fall and in the upcoming spring semester, numerous courses are either fully or partially virtual. This change has drastically affected the way classes are conducted, and the way students are learning.

Pros and cons come with every change, and online learning is no exception. Many students have found that some classes are easier due to this transition, which has been seemingly favorable. There is also more free time for students as a result of asynchronous classes and reduced travel times.

The downsides of this shift are likely to resonate with many students in later years, when they have to readjust to attending all of their classes in person. There is also a strong majority of students that struggle to focus with online classes, which is currently negatively impacting both grades and mental health.

“I find that my Zoom classes are very hard to pay attention in. A fifty minute class feels like an eternity. This semester I have been severely lacking motivation and my grades have dropped lower than I would like. I am definitely not a virtual learner,” says Megan Starr, sophomore, adding, “In the spring I have a majority of in person classes and I am very happy about that. However, I feel like I will have to readjust to in person learning because I have become too comfortable with the convenience of attending a Zoom class while in my bed.”

The comfort of online learning is not just limited to class time, it also applies to test taking. Since many students are not able to take tests in person, exams in many classes have shifted to an online format. Professors are aware that students are able to look up answers in their notes or on the internet, so many have made their exams and quizzes open note.

For students, open note exams and quizzes can be a relief in the moment, but how is it really impacting our ability to learn and study? When students are eventually able to attend in person classes again, many may be far too accustomed to taking tests online and relying on their notes and other materials.

“I would say that I definitely study less cause when I’m at home all the time I’m less inclined to do school work and it’s easier for me to do other stuff,” says Adam Kurtz, sophomore.

Not only has online learning impacted learning and study habits, it has also drastically changed the way students structure their daily schedules. It is much easier to dedicate more time to other aspects of life, outside of academics. When students have to shift their schedules and spend more time on their courses, it will likely be frustrating.

“Online learning gave me the chance to spend more time working so going back to in person classes is going to be a major readjustment in the way I’ve been structuring my days for the past 7 months,” says Colleen Jones, sophomore.

Even though there are plenty of negative impacts of having the majority of coursework online, being able to spend more time working and making money is a game changer for many. During a normal semester, complicated schedules, traveling across campus between classes, and all synchronous courses, make it difficult to work longer or more frequent shifts.

The combination of transitioning study habits back to where they were previously, and having to go back to a more confined schedule, may be a shock for students in the coming years. It may not seem like anything to be worried about now, but it should be anticipated.

Whether you love or hate online learning, the reality is that eventually things will go back to normal. Seniors may be finishing up their college careers with a virtual schedule, but current freshmen, sophomores, and even juniors, will have to expect a transition.

Being able to turn off your microphone and camera during class and searching for answers during most exams and quizzes may seem like a luxury now, but be mindful of how this may impact you in the long run. Even though it may be out of your comfort zone, participating in your online classes and continuing to put effort into studying will save you from a lot of hardship when classes return to in person instruction.

How do you think the pandemic is impacting your learning and study habits? Tweet us at @VALLEYmag!

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