2020, please slow down.
Society was beginning to recover from the drought, bushfires and floods. Then you hit us with an outbreak of a virus and into a national lockdown we went. This pandemic is bigger than we had expected, affecting all aspects of society and life.
How is this affecting university students?
This research project for BCM212, a core subject of Communications and Media at University of Wollongong was designed to grasp an idea of how students balanced the stress of a pandemic and their university workload.
There are limitations to the project, the main ones are. Firstly, the convenience sample of the BCM212 students does not accurately represent the population of university students, let alone the whole population of the BCM212 students. The sample size is rather small for a statistical test and thus is difficult to find significant relationships with the data. Secondly, there is limited research regarding students experience during a pandemic. Thirdly, personality traits are a variable that affect social media behaviour and the response to a global pandemic. Finally, the sample size is not clearly diverse and have no indication on age or gender, in which would also be a variable in social media behaviour.
With that said, let’s continue.
Since the pandemic, students at University of Wollongong as well as other Universities transitioned to remote learning. This impacted students’ routines, learning experience and mental health. In one of the surveys, 13 out of 14 students said their study routine changed due to Covid-19. Following this question, a large majority of the students said this change made them feel stressed, anxious and nervous. The question “Do you feel Covid-19 has impacted your motivation to study?” received mixed responses. 61.1% of the 36, had agreed that the pandemic had negatively impacted their motivation to study.
Further responses included “I have a higher level of anxiety and being at home gives me more options for procrastinating”, “yes, more stress, work load has tripled and really not coping” and “yes, moving everything online has been difficult for me personally because I struggle to find motivation for online learning”. In contrast, other students said “It has motivated me in a good way, I have a lot of time on my hands and I feel as though I need to make most of this time”, “It has probably made me more motivated, just because it’s something to do” and “I study more since I have more time”. The relationship here is time, and how it is spent, in which is dependent on variables such as personality traits, environment and lifestyle.
The picture painted here is time, and how we spend it. Which, from my perspective is dependent on variables such as personality traits, environment and lifestyle.
The transition to remote learning caused students to be more active on social media, as 86.1% of the 36 respondents said their social media use had increased. Social media during this time was both a blessing and a curse, as people were able to connect with each other during isolation, the platforms also became facilitators and multipliers of Covid-19 misrelated news (Ali & Kurasawa 2020). 63.9% of the respondents claimed their social media was full of Covid-19 news. A student said that seeing the Covid-19 news made them “constantly feeling overwhelmed and trying to control anxious thoughts and stresses”.
Stress, depression, anxiety and a preference for online interactions are the expenses of social media addiction and obsessive behaviour (Chugh 2020). It was recorded that 94.5% of the 36 respondents spend over 2 hours a day on social media for non-university purposes. Of this result, 38.9% admitted to spending 3-4 hours and 16.7% admitted to spending over 5 hours a day. Majority of the respondents reported they simultaneously swapped through the following applications; Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Tik Tok. A study reveals social media multitasking is associated with higher stress and anxiety (Becker, Alzahabi & Hopwood 2019). 91.6% of the respondents found themselves mindlessly scrolling through social media.
When studying, 63.9% of the respondents said their phone was on their desk and 25% said they turned it on ‘do not disturb’. Essentially, these results demonstrate our dependency on smart phones and social media, as we ensure they are in our sight, we are multitasking and evenly scrolling through social media without intentions.
Although the impact of the pandemic on student engagement has not been thoroughly researched to acquire enough results for a strong opinion. I believe it is clear this topic requires attention by professionals across the education and mental health industries, to support students during a crisis and to develop a healthy relationship with technology.
Remember, we are not alone. Your mental health is a priority, your happiness is essential and self-care is a necessity.
Ali, H & Kurasawa F 2020, ‘#COVID19: Social media both a blessing and a curse during coronavirus pandemic’, The Conversation, 22 March, viewed 26 May 2020, < https://theconversation.com/covid19-social-media-both-a-blessing-and-a-curse-during-coronavirus-pandemic-133596>.
Becker M, Alzahabi R, & Hopwood C 2013, ‘Media Multitasking is Associated with Symptoms of Depression and Social Anxiety’, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, vol 16, no.2, pp. 132-165.
Chugh R 2016, ‘Addicted to social media? Try an e-fasting plan’, The Conversation, 4 April, viewed 25 March 2020, <https://theconversation.com/addicted-to-social-media-try-an-e-fasting-plan-56804>.