Journal on Empowering Teaching Excellence


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The COVID-19 pandemic caused disruptions to student learning from K–12 to universities and continues to manifest negative effects on students. To better understand the challenges our students face and how those obstacles have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we surveyed our undergraduate ecology students who ranked obstacles to learning they experience in technology, learning environment, and economic security. The majority of respondents report conditions have worsened since the onset of the pandemic. Surveys identified the largest challenges on average were being unfamiliar with technology, using a smartphone or tablet for coursework, balancing work and employment, and having trouble focusing and retaining information. A principal components analysis (PCA) identified that not having reliable internet, having children and other dependents in the home to care for, and not having a safe or private place to study were also common challenges. The PCA also indicated that food and housing insecurity outweighed job insecurity, which may indicate that our students are underemployed or poorly paid. Non-white females and first-generation college students face more obstacles than other groups. Surprisingly, the frequency of obstacles faced did not influence academic normalized learning gains (NLGs). Nor did students with a higher number of demographic markers that indicate historically underserved groups show lower NLGs. Mitigating obstacles to learning as the pandemic continues and new virus variants emerge will take a multi-faceted approach and understanding of each individual student’s challenges. Recommendations to mitigate the burden include students’ self-identified preferred solutions of having more flexible assignment dates, study zones with good wifi, and more asynchronous material. Access to updated computers would also be beneficial. Given that housing and food security scored highly in obstacles experienced, food banks on campus could assist in relieving some of this economic burden. Finally, strategies such as dividing online material into small chunks (< 15 minutes), followed by formative assessment opportunities for student metacognition (quizzes, reflections, discussions), then followed by synchronous sessions focused on active learning provided a strong support for learning for all students pre-pandemic and these strategies continue to transcend the pandemic and lessen its short- and long-term impacts.



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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.