#FocusDisruption: How has online education affected students and faculty


#FocusDisruption is an all media collaboration within Montclair State’s School of Communication and Media. Our goal is to report stories that highlight the effects or disruption of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We will focus on five main points that are experiencing the changes of a post-pandemic world: education, misinformation, the workplace, climate change and mental health.

When students and educators were sent home in March 2020, they quickly had to figure out what to do without being in person. Our teaching and learning methods were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) and so we had to make do with what we had: online learning.

About a year and a half later, online learning has changed the way we think about education. Even today, as we slowly emerge from the pandemic, virtual education is still being implemented. Whether it’s the virtual days due to bad weather or the asynchronous classes students are taking again this year, e-learning is how we have dealt with COVID-19 disrupting our education.

Students at Montclair State University have a lot to say about their learning experience through Zoom. While the experiences differ in some ways, they left a lasting impression on most. Cam Martin, a junior specializing in sports media and journalism, described how he handled the initial transition to online learning.

“Using Zoom for the first time was definitely unique to me, in part because I had never experienced an online school,” said Martin. “I can get some sleep, but it’s still a bit new to me. I’m good with technology, so I could figure out a way to pull this off, but it’s just a question of, “Can I really do this right now?” “”

Cam Martin is one of the many students who have had to make the transition to online learning.
Photo courtesy of Cam Martin

Mari Zuniga, a communications and media arts major, had a more difficult transition to what has become the new normal for education.

“I find it difficult to concentrate on the computer,” Zuniga said. “It’s really hard for me because I watch this and that. I hear them, but I don’t listen. I’m not paying attention.

Communication and arts student Mari Zuniga has seen her mental health affected by online learning.  -photo by Sal DiMaggio

Mari Zuniga has seen her mental health affected by online learning.
Sal DiMaggio | The Montclarion

Dr Erik Jacobson, Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, noted how different students responded in different ways to the initial switch to virtual learning.

“[For students who prepared for online learning], it might have been a little different than they expected, but I think the classes have always worked for them, ”said Jacobson. “I think they maybe didn’t get 100% of what they normally would have got, but I think they got a good chunk. And the students who weren’t prepared for it, I think, really suffered.

Dr Erik Jacobson, Associate Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, has spoken a lot about the impact of e-learning on the way we teach - Photo by Sal DiMaggio

Dr Erik Jacobson has spoken a lot about the impact of e-learning on the way we teach.
Sal DiMaggio | The Montclarion

Students weren’t the only ones affected by the switch to Zoom. Teachers also had to deal with this change. Dr Michael Koch, assistant professor in the School of Communication and Media, was one of the many.

“[Online teaching is] not my favorite way of teaching, but I wasn’t completely against it either, ”Koch said. “I wanted to be safe, and I wanted everyone to be safe too. So it was difficult, but I did my best and tried to be as accommodating as possible. [I] maybe could be.

Dr Micheal Koch, assistant professor in the School of Communication and Media, said online learning prevents him from properly engaging with his students.  - photo by Sal DiMaggio

Dr Michael Koch says online learning has made it difficult for him to properly engage with his students.
Sal DiMaggio | The Montclarion

Mental health was also something that online learning affected. Going to class has a social aspect besides an educational aspect, and having to learn at home won out.

In addition to being a professor at Montclair State, Koch is also a therapist and has seen students grapple with their mental health. But he also noted that it is sometimes difficult to know what the students are going through.

“I think it’s a bit of a cliché to say that everyone is struggling, but there’s a lot of cumulative impact to that,” Koch said. “Maybe six months ago some people [would say], ‘Yes I’m dong well. I do well.’ But as it drags on, it becomes tiring. I think there is a lot of mental exhaustion. [Even] myself and [other educators] are not at all immune to this.

Zuniga then discussed her mental health issues while learning about Zoom.

“Before COVID-19, [my mental health] was already on the rocks, ”Zuniga said. “So when online learning happened, it got a little worse. [I thought] ‘How am I going to get out of this? Are we still going to be on Zoom? ‘ “

According to Jacobson, the decline in mental health was not entirely invisible to the professors, but it was difficult for them to say exactly what was going on.

“I’ve had students directly telling me how they are doing and how they are feeling and others who have fallen off the radar,” Jacobson said. “So I [would] email them, “How are you?” Everything is fine?’ But then there were students who showed up, did their jobs, were engaged, and their personalities didn’t lend themselves to saying, “Actually, I’m struggling right now. “

Despite this, online learning may have its benefits in the future if used correctly, especially here in Montclair State where traffic and parking still seem to be a concern for students, according to Jacobson.

“It certainly offers flexibility, doesn’t it? Jacobson said. “In terms of time, schedule and physical location. Montclair State has a lot of students who work outside of school. We have a lot of students who are commuters, [and] we have terrible traffic and parking problems on campus. So certainly Zoom and the use of e-learning platforms can be a way to solve some of these things. “

As the future unfolds, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to shape our education systems. No one can predict the future and say what comes in store for us, but at the end of the day, one thing is clear: online learning has forever changed the way we think about education.

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