One of the things I remember most about teaching during the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters was how quiet the classes were in those few minutes before class began.
To me, it was a combination of social distancing, masks, teaching freshmen, and cell phones, all of which helped to create a barrier of sorts between the students. In my opinion, cell phones had already started a trend towards less social interaction a few years ago, and the pandemic just magnified the problem.
Those memories came back to me because of a story I read earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal:
Julie Jargon, the reporter, notes that a combination of remote learning and overdependence on screens have left college students anxious about interacting in real life; College instructors worry that if they don’t do something to facilitate conversation in class, their students will be unprepared to enter the workforce.
As I read that last part, I started to feel anxious. What do I know about facilitating conversation?
But then Jargon included a statistic that made me quite sad:
Researchers from three universities surveyed nearly 33,000 college students around the U.S. and found two-thirds were struggling with loneliness in the fall of 2020.
This reminded me of a post I wrote nearly four years ago, in which I referenced a survey of nearly 28,000 students on 51 campuses by the American College Health Association. The survey, taken in 2017, found that more than 60 percent said that they had “felt very lonely” in the previous 12 months. Nearly 30 percent said that they had felt that way in the previous two weeks.
So it seems clear that the pandemic did not cause this problem of isolation, but it certainly made it worse.
Jargon writes that In the past, socializing wasn’t just a perk but also a big incentive for students choosing campus life.
Damon Moon, who teaches international business at San Jose State University, notes that “Schools were an environment that encouraged students to have reasonable conversations and build relationships during their formative years.”
So perhaps I need to be a bit more proactive in making sure students aren’t staring at their screens, but rather chatting with the person next to them.
Maybe I can get things started by talking about the usual things that interest college students, like bowling, brainteasers, and blogging. At that point, the students will realize that they are better at this small talk stuff than I am, and leave me out of the conversation.
That’s fine with me.
I just want the students to look back on their college years fondly, and not remember it as a time of loneliness and odd professors…
*image from the Association of Psychological Science