It is no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented disruption to everyday life. As research continues to find medical solutions, everyone is adjusting to their new normal in a changing landscape.
For college students around the nation and the globe, that has meant being thrust – at a moment’s notice – into online learning environments, something they may never have wanted and certainly were not expecting. Just what impact this disruption has had on students’ academic achievements, however, is still unknown. That is what Ting Huang, a Kendall Scholar and McNair Scholar from UMBC’s psychology program, wants to find out.
After the initial shock of the change back in March, Huang and her classmates began recognizing that online learning meant more than just shifting the normal class into virtual space. There was a difference in how they perceived their classes.
“We had been enjoying our interactions in the classroom with the professors and with each other, and suddenly we didn’t have that anymore,” Huang said. “We felt like it was impacting our grades and our satisfaction with classes.”
So alongside UMBC Psychology Program Director Dr. Diane Alonso, Huang has begun putting together a research proposal. Existing literature points to engagement between instructors and learners as being critical for learning. Students are more likely to learn more when they are engaged in the topic at hand, Huang points out. For her study, though, she wants to focus on the stress resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic and how that plays into students’ academic satisfaction.
Huang knows that her experience at UMBC at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) has given her the confidence and capabilities to conduct this study. After two years at Montgomery College, she realized that UMBC’s psychology program at USG was much closer to home and more convenient than UMBC’s main campus. At USG, her interactions with Dr. Donald Knight, in particular, shaped the type of researcher that she has become.
“Dr. Knight’s classes led me to this research in the first place,” Huang said. “He’s inspiring in the way he teaches, so that’s why I wanted to pursue this and continue my academic career.”
Huang also hopes that the unique set-up of USG will lend itself to a more thorough study. In the fall, she will be administering a survey to college students about their general satisfaction and anxiety levels, as well as how they perceive online learning in general. Though she only currently has clearance to survey UMBC students, she is working to get approval to send the survey to students from all nine universities at USG. After completion of the survey, Huang intends to use that information to create an experimental study in the spring semester.
Though remote learning is not Huang’s personal ideal academic environment, she recognizes that it is the best and safest way to proceed in the near future. “Ultimately, my opinion is less connected to my research than it is to the real-world situation happening right now,” she explained. “I would encourage all universities to commit to online learning and only return to full operations when there is a vaccine in sight. Keeping students off campus is also connected with lower mobility in general, which helps stop the spread of this virus, so it makes the most sense for us right now.”