Long-term effects shown in Santa Barbara students due to remote learning

Willow Martin, Staff Writer

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Westmont College made a tremendous effort to ensure that in-person classes were available to its students. Since many schools offered online or remote-optional classes for upwards of a year, the long-term effects of remote schooling are noticeable in comparison to the behavior of students taught in-person.

A recent report from the Santa Barbara Grand Jury investigated how remote learning during the pandemic affected K-8th grade students in Santa Barbara County public schools. The report observed a decrease in competency in the areas of math and English as well as social-emotional losses among students, an effect researchers deemed the “learning gap.”

While college students differ from those in K-8, some professors who have taught both in-person at Westmont and remotely at other schools have noticed similar effects in their students. Professor of history Ryan Minor taught at both UCSB and Westmont throughout the pandemic. UCSB, a large state university, offers a unique comparison to Westmont, seeing as it took longer to return to the classroom than the small, private liberal arts college. 

Minor suggested that students suffered the most consequences of remote learning in terms of their personal growth. One noticeable element is discussion skills. According to Minor, having class discussions via Zoom has taken away some students’ comfort in speaking to groups of people. “It’s about [getting] students back to the mindset of adding to conversations confidently. It’s a life skill,” commented Minor. 

Professor of accounting Coby Harmon also teaches at both UCSB and Westmont. Harmon noticed the impact of remote learning in his students’ grades. Before implementing protocols to prevent students from working together or using other resources on online tests, Harmon noticed that test scores were very high. Once he adjusted protocols to mitigate cheating, Harmon found that his students’ test scores were abnormally low and that, “as I resume more in-person classes the scores still seem to be a little lagging.”

Harmon suggested the existence of a knowledge gap, which he observed in the students he taught remotely. According to Harmon, he and his colleagues “noticed that there are some students who have been remote through their lower-division classes and are now in their upper-division classes.” Harmon and other instructors agreed: “Students don’t know what they should know and we’re not really sure why. The only thing we can pin it on is that things were different the past two years.” 

Remote learning has also affected students socially. Minor commented, “I think one of the biggest issues when meeting with students, especially with freshmen, was the lack of social connection. Some of them just felt completely isolated. There is a huge social component to being on campus, to being in a classroom, and that just disappeared.”

Christina Puglisi, a third-year student who transferred last year from a college which held classes online during the pandemic, agreed with this sentiment. She commented, “I feel as though I barely made any friends while I was online, so it is so helpful to have people to reach out to for help [now]. I think that having in-person connections has helped my mental health because I do not feel as isolated as I normally would in online learning.”

As the semester draws to a close, the Westmont community can look back on the past two years and appreciate its ability to remain — for the most part — in person and on campus. Westmont’s commitment to in-person classes undoubtedly impacted the social and emotional health of students as well as their academic performances.

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