In the past, students have often connected with and used each other as a resource in the classroom. Now, with a majority of classes performing in a remote setting, this interaction is limited beyond blank screens and a chat room.

“Only students that know each other talk [outside of class]. … Students know that they can ‘hide,’” Scott Courtney, associate professor of mathematics at Kent State, said.

scott courtney headshot

Scott Courtney. Courtesy of Kent State University.

This leaves students feeling alone in their courses and unable to connect with any new classmates. “I used to work closely with my peers in my classes,” senior biology major Delaney McConaha said. "You see these people in your class so they’re the first that you go to.”

According to Gallup research, “The percentage of adults who consider themselves to be ‘thriving’ has dropped to 48.8 percent, the lowest level since 2008.” This is a result of COVID-19’s impact of isolation on college students’ mental health.

With the inability to connect face-to-face, many students have resorted to utilizing GroupMe to create a platform for class sections to talk outside of class. Though this provides a platform for students to connect, it comes with limitations.

“I have a separate GroupMe for every one of my classes and activities,” McConaha said. “It can be helpful, but my messages are always so full. I feel like I am not giving everything the attention it needs.”

“Things like GroupMe are temporary,” Courtney said. “They may seem great at first, but after time they die out.”

Courtney has been looking into these barriers of student connection as he prepares for an info session through the College of Education, Health and Human Services [EHHS]. In this session, Courtney said the premise is, “What we can do as a unit to deliver opportunities for students to meet together when we can’t.”

As an associate professor who teaches master’s-level classes in mathematics education, Courtney is a “teacher who is teaching remotely to help other teachers teach remotely.” He is using this unique experience to learn ways for instructors to encourage virtual interaction with their students in hopes of building stronger relationships between them.

Courtney said it is necessary for instructors to be more accessible to their students and to take initiative to create a place for them to come together and collaborate. In the end, his goal for students is to be able to take initiative themselves and meet on their own to continue to grow a community.

According to the National Council of Teachers of English, “Remote learning doesn’t have to mean the end of personality and spontaneity.” Even when online, it is important and necessary to make personal connections that engage students with their coursework and classmates.

“There are so many difficulties and challenges,” Courtney said. “But there might be some good to come out of it.”

Courtney’s info session, entitled “Building Community in a Remote Learning Environment,” will be held on Friday, Oct. 2, at 10 a.m., as a part of a series of online town halls with students focused around success in remote learning.

Zach Zdanowicz is a reporter. Contact him at zzdanowi@kent.edu.

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