Authored by Review Committee Chairs – Keri Brophy-Martinez, MHA/ED, MLS (ASCP) – PARC Chair, Andrea Gordon, M.Ed. MLS(ASCP)SH – RCAP Chair, S. Renee Hodgkins, Ph.D. MLS(ASCP) – DRC Chair
As the review committee chairs collaborated to write this installment of From Where We Sit, we identified some key points to convey. These included the challenges we have seen with students in the post-pandemic era and the adjustments made to student learning while using a 100% or hybrid online platform. We have also included some tools we have developed or used to integrate student-focused learning activities into our curriculum.
Future college students in the post-pandemic era come with a new set of challenges. An annual report from the National Center for Education Statistics examined the pre-college education public school systems. It showed a trend for more classroom disruptions and absenteeism (both student and faculty). It also revealed reports of deterioration in the socioemotional development and behavior of students in public education, including more disruptions in and out of the classroom and more disrespect towards teachers. Public schools reported not having the support necessary to address student and staff mental health or the ability to find substitute teachers. How these findings will impact how we teach our college-level courses are yet to be fully seen, though the immediate impact may be felt more in the decreased number of applicants.
We have seen that pandemic and post-pandemic students demonstrate decreased study skills and reduced resilience that requires additional support from faculty. Skills such as writing, spelling and grammar, finding appropriate resources, and attending one-on-one meetings, to name a few, seem to be less developed. Even the graduate students, who would be expected to have been less impacted by the influence of the pandemic, seem to be affected as they struggle with the challenges of staffing shortages at their jobs, increased sample volumes, and the stress of early promotion to leadership roles.
During the pandemic, the inequity within both student and faculty ranks were exaggerated. The degree of access to reliable internet and safe, quiet spaces for studying was hugely variable. We saw students taking their classes in bedrooms and coffee shops. Some were very organized, some were chaotic, and many of us experienced the distractions of young children and pets in the background. In one instance, a disrobed family member walked behind a student during a synchronous lecture. The difficulty in course preparation and management for faculty became more obvious as we were forced to work within a fully online learning model in a short period of time. We needed to learn how to adapt to the vast differences in learning, while we ourselves learned online technology and scrambled to find creative ways to reach the multiple needs of our students. The learning curve for everyone was exponential.
As such, things were sometimes missed. And while the three review committee chairs perceived the challenges differently, we all agreed that one of the biggest changes and challenges was the rapid need to move to a fully online platform. Content delivery with digital platforms requires more course development, added faculty preparation, steeper learning curves for implementation, and potentially more cognitive load for the learner.  As the faculty worked to navigate the learning platform available to them and tried to use various study models effectively, some students were often far ahead in technology skills, learning how to use online resources to lighten their load, and for some, simply making it easier to skip learning by copying and pasting assignments instead. In contrast, other students were less advanced with technology and struggled to navigate online course delivery platforms and more self-directed learning.
Several studies completed in 2020 revealed conflicting results about the utility of online learning. Kalkstein and Rheubert wrote in the Faculty Focus that digital resources are often better than what we can provide in the brick-and-mortar lecture hall. Still, Herman noted the students themselves felt they did not learn as well in online classes. To further confuse the findings, Ardissone et al. found that regardless of the method of teaching used, graduate outcomes remained the same. This suggests our perspective on online learning may be of little consequence.
Nonetheless, our perceptions are that post-pandemic students are less motivated and lack the accountability of pre-pandemic students, requiring more support, mentoring, guidance, and introductions to basic college and online learning skills. As we worked together to put together this perspective for From Where We Sit, we all returned to the shared observation that students were not prepared for the expectations of higher education, where we demand them to understand the rigor and responsibility of ensuring they actively work to learn the new material and can discern how to best use the infinite number of resources that are literally at their fingertips. They must know how to access their online textbooks, actually read them, review recorded lectures, continue to take notes the old-fashioned way, and screen out irrelevant and inaccurate information while finding solid peer-reviewed journals when doing research. They need to understand the connection between doing their own work, realizing that retyping and rewriting are part of the studying and learning process as well as engaging with faculty and others during face-to-face and virtual discussions.
As faculty in higher education, most of us simply do not have the additional time built into our already busy schedules and courses to develop strategies to acclimate students unprepared for higher education. In response, however, we have worked hard to adjust our education models with more innovation. We included examples of tools used in the table below. Some examples are free such as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (https://www.biointeractive.org/) sources, while others require a subscription. Feedback from our students indicates these strategies seem to have helped them process the information. By utilizing these tools, they are able to cement concepts in their mind and increase lasting memory.
Examples of Online and Instructor Developed Resources: Bacterial Identification Virtual Lab (https://www.biointeractive.org/classroom-resources/bacterial-identification-virtual-lab)Biochemistry Interactive (https://www.biointeractive.org/classroom-resources?f%5B0%5D=topics%3A25)BloodBankGuy (bbguy.org) Coag Factor Mnemonic (https://epomedicine.com/medical-students/simple-coagulation-cascade-mnemonics)Immunology Virtual Lab (https://media.hhmi.org/biointeractive/vlabs/immunology2/content/index.htmlJeopardyLabs (https://jeopardylabs.com/)KAHOOT! Games (kahoot.com)Instructor Support PlatformsPanopto Recording (panopto.com)Piktochart (Piktochart.com)Venngage (venngage.com)Flipgrid (flipgrid.com)Instructor Created tools like Hematology Bingo, Hematology Search and Find, If I Was a (Coag) Factor for a Day Storytelling, and Microbe projects addressing microbe categories (Keri Brophy-Martinez)Sketch Noting and guided note-taking Online platforms: Zoom, Teams, Blackboard Collaborate, Google Meet, duo, etc.
Institutionally, some educational providers have attempted to provide additional support outside the programs through student support services (such as writing and counseling), mandatory online learning modules, and required live meetings with academic advisors and counselors. But, with program admission applications down, those resources are limited and may not be available to all, leaving us with residual questions for the best approach to prepare incoming students and faculty for the new challenges of technology: good and bad.
Ultimately, the post-pandemic era of education still has many challenges for both students and faculty. Expectations for more online delivery by faculty will require increased dependency on self-regulation skills from students. The increased demands on faculty and students will require institutional investment in resources and innovation in education tools and delivery. Success in this post-pandemic era will be predicated on the ability of all stakeholders to adapt to the changes in learning styles, technology, and potentially decreased post-secondary education preparedness. Embracing these changes while collaborating and sharing what works with our peers may be a simple strategy for coping with and overcoming these challenges.
1. More than 80 Percent of U.S. Public Schools Report Pandemic Has Negatively Impacted Student Behavior and Socio-Emotional Development. 2022, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, https://nces.ed.gov/whatsnew/press_releases/07_06_2022.asp, accessed May 1, 2023.
2. Gewin, V., Pandemic Burnout is Rampant in Academia. Nature, 2021. 591(7850): p. 489-491.
3. Kalkstein, A.L. and J.L. Rheubert, Death of a Traditional Lecture. Faculty Focus, Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching & Learning, 2023, https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/course-design-ideas/death-of-a-traditional-lecture, accessed May 1, 2023.
4. Herman, P.C., Online learning is not the future. Inside Higher Ed, 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2020/06/10/online-learning-not-future-higher-education-opinion#, accessed May 1, 2023.
5. Ardissone, A.N., J.C. Drew, and E.W. Triplett, Online and in-Person Delivery of Upper Division Lecture Courses in Undergraduate Life Sciences Degree Programs Leads to Equivalent Post-Graduate Degree Outcomes. Journal for STEM Education Research, 2020. 3(3): p. 403-412.