Adapting to Today’s Students and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Today's Students and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Author: Dr. Jennifer Harrison, Professor, Warren County Community College

As COVID-19 social restrictions evolve and change, it’s easy to feel frustrated and overwhelmed. But what does this all mean for our society and the future?

I know one thing’s for sure: I love the convenience of being able to log in to a virtual work meeting. However, I miss the in-person discussions that would flow so easily while in class. Teaching to black screens and only a few students who put their cameras on can be daunting. New challenges include the stutters of conversation when students switch their mics on, a bad internet connection causing mid-sentence freezes and distractions preventing students from focusing.

Is this the new norm?

Will this change the way we educate from now on? Will we go back to the “normal,” on-campus way of educating soon?

Perhaps coronavirus introduced new conveniences we won’t want to give up now that we’ve experienced them—I can’t say for sure. What I do know, is that we’re all learning as we go.

As an educator (and a mother of five), I know firsthand (and secondhand) the pandemic’s impact on teaching and learning. I watch my teenage children listen to their teachers while scrolling on their phones, playing music in the background or even binge-watching shows!

Now, I’m not condoning this behavior. However, teenagers are more independent learners than elementary school students. I typically don’t hover over them while they virtually attend school.

When I do check in, I’ve seen some seriously lax behavior. At the same time, I’ve watched them engage with their teachers and their peers while simultaneously having all of these other distractions available!

They’ve adapted faster than I could have ever imagined. Learning is happening despite them being so laid back about it. For me, this is mind-blowing. I can have zero distractions and still become distracted. It appears Gen Z has a different set of skills!

Adapting for Today’s Students

Naturally, I assume my virtual college students do much of the same. My goal is to keep them engaged during my classes to prevent distractions.

Taking note of how my own children learn, I noticed they’re more engaged when pulled into discussions. I try to do what most teachers do when teaching virtually: I ask A LOT of questions (especially calling on students who refuse to put their cameras on to make sure they are actually in class).

I don’t ask questions they’d find on a quiz or an assignment, but instead questions that take the content we’re discussing and make it applicable to their lives. It works!

My students enjoy sharing with the class their feelings about what’s happening in society. They engage more when applying their personal experiences to these topics.

In terms of retention, this method shows they’re able to learn the content well and their essays are stronger and well-informed. Students often begin to care about how these social issues impact them and society as a whole.

As perfect timing would have it, the last unit for my Introduction to Sociology class focuses on Social Change. For our last classes of the semester, we talk about COVID-19 and its impact on social change and movements.

We also talk about how the pandemic’s altered our use of technology while discussing the theories, functions, benefits and costs. This is a lesson where I’ll learn from my students as much as they’ll learn from me.


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