Nebraska College Students Say Remote Learning Affected Their Experience

July 30, 2021, 6:45 a.m. ·

A picture of a Zoom class with a teacher and students.
Broadcasting Professor Barney McCoy found that 88% of students surveyed took remote classes 51% to 100% of the time during the spring 2021 semester. (Photo courtesy of Barney McCoy)

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In March of last year, millions of students packed their bags and returned home from their college towns. Yet, school was expected to continue. Auditorium lectures were replaced with Zoom lectures, and classmates were replaced with family pets and younger siblings.

Reflecting back on the past year as the fall semester fast approaches, many students attending Nebraska universities found their college education wasn’t quite the same because of the pandemic. Remote classes became the norm as students learned from their homes instead of the classroom.

A recent survey conducted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln broadcasting professor Barney McCoy asked students about their perceptions of online learning during the pandemic. Students were surveyed across 30 U.S. colleges in 22 states.

Nearly 68% of the 500 students surveyed said they learned less because of the shift to more remote online learning.

McCoy said there is no doubt students felt the quality of their learning was less than what it would have been in the classroom.

Yet, the college education system was forced to adapt. A billion dollar industry shifted overnight, and some of the changes might not be as temporary as they once seemed.

McCoy said one of the biggest roadblocks to effective learning for students was an increase in distractions.

Picture of a Zoom class
Professor Barney McCoy taught multiple remote classes during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Barney McCoy)

For Rachel Philips, an incoming senior at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, distractions were a big part of her online learning experience. The computer science major has been almost entirely remote the past two and a half semesters and said she feels she did not get as much out of classes as she did pre-pandemic.

“It was a lot harder to focus and actually retain things. It just felt like things weren't as serious. Professors would cut back on what they would teach because they knew it was harder to understand. So I feel like I didn't really get the most out of it as I could have if I was in person.”

Many students note online school provided shortcuts that impacted what they were actually learning. Phillips said even if she got the grade she wanted in her classes, her retention was not the same as it had been in the classroom.

External Vice President of UNL’s student government, Patrick Baker, said while living under the same roof as family, it was hard to set boundaries during what would normally be school hours.

“Being at home there is this misconception that you're back on your parents time or you're back on your siblings time. There's still homework at the end of the day with online school. Just because you're not currently sitting in a zoom meeting doesn't mean you have nothing to do.”

Baker said this only added to the distractions of remote learning. Similarly, junior at Wayne State College, Destinee Wilkins, said parents didn’t realize the strain of remote learning on college students.

“I know a bunch of people have taken at least one class over from being online, just because they did not feel like they adequately learned anything.”

Yet, students didn’t think doing school online was all bad. Baker, the UNL student, said he thinks variations of remote learning are the way of the future.

“It forced everything to almost digitize and it really made college more dynamic and almost more accessible for a lot of students.”

Furthermore, professor McCoy said many students in his survey want to keep some form of remote learning.

“If somebody is working a full time or part time job and a way for them to get a college education means that they can take some online classes mixed in with their classroom classes, then they might want to have that going forward.”

Coming this fall, the majority of colleges across the state will be back to seemingly “normal” operations, with in-person classes and students back on campus. However the chapter of what college will look like long-term post-pandemic has still yet to be written.