It’s Fall again, which means it’s back to school season, but this year it comes as no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered the way students are going about their studies (here in the U.S., at least). In light of recent events, we’ve all been enrolled in what the internet has aptly named Zoom University. Online school isn’t just for that one kid you knew in middle school who only showed up for choir class and P.E. anymore, it’s now pretty much the only option for getting an education until a vaccine is available. Upon first glance, this seems like a pretty easy, convenient solution: students can go to class without leaving their bedrooms— or their beds, for that matter— and do all their homework safely and virtually. Every resource they need to succeed is available in their school email inbox or a Canvas announcement. Every resource, that is, except for motivation. Online school is killing students’ motivation to complete assignments/readings and destroying their sense of time management and structure.
I’ll use myself as an example: I’m currently a sophomore in college, double majoring in Communications and Creative Writing and minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies. In other words, I’m basically an English major. I’ve always been considered a “good student,” participating in class discussions, frequently turning in my essays and homework early, not just on time, and I actually thoroughly enjoy learning. Because of my major, most of the work I do comes as reading and responding, which means that I hardly ever have specific assignments that I need to complete and turn in before a deadline. I have one or two discussion posts or short essays every week, and the occasional quiz or group project, but the majority of my field of study is listening to lectures and reading chapter after chapter in various textbooks/novella.
One of the main problems that I’ve run into in doing this kind of degree program online is that I rarely ever feel productive anymore. Because I don’t go to lectures in person where I can actively discuss topics with my peers and professors, and because I almost never have an actual assignment to turn in, I constantly feel as though I’m not being productive. I can spend hours on end reading multiple chapters and pages of poetry books and still end the day feeling like I accomplished nothing. This has, unsurprisingly, resulted in a lot of frustration and a huge lack of motivation to keep doing the work if I’m not seeing any kind of tangible payoff in the form of grades, responses from classmates, or even a little checkmark in my “Assignments” tab on Canvas. How am I supposed to stay motivated to do my schoolwork without any kind of incentive or feeling of success?
In addition to the frustration of the actual classwork, online school also kills motivation by keeping students inside. Because students can do all their work from one room in their home, they’re missing out on the exercise they used to get by walking to classes, meetings, and extracurriculars. Without this exercise and time outside of their rooms, students are more inclined to be depressed and lethargic, making it harder to stay focused on school. The longer students spend inside in the same space, the less stimulated they become by their environment, making online school dull and repetitive.
Online school also has eliminated the incredibly important separation of work and home. Since everything happens virtually in the same physical space, students are mentally unable to separate their work lives and learning environments from their relaxation environments. This blurs the line between a space where effort is required and a space where one is meant to feel safe, making it incredibly difficult for students to feel like their work is ever truly done.
As much as everyone’s safety should be the top priority, the struggle for students this semester cannot be overstated. Motivation is plummeting as fast as COVID-19 cases are rising, so please stay safe, wear a mask, and support your fellow students as we attempt to navigate these unprecedented times.