Posted on: May 5, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by Sarah Schudt

By Omar Shalabi, JRN 111 Student

Second-year radiology major Aya Shehayber has seen it: Moraine Valley students checked out–physically present in class, but not fully there mentally or emotionally. 

“I’ve seen people lack enthusiasm in coming to school, especially post-pandemic,” she said. She noticed classes that started with lower enrollment at the beginning of the semester dwindled further as “people still stopped showing up to class. I hear people are failing class.” 

Shehayber says student disconnection is taking a toll on her mental health: “It has taken a toll on my grades, wanting to go to school, wanting to go to work, like anything. Because you’ve been gone for so long.” 

She senses the majority of students at Moraine Valley feel this way, and she feels that schools should push talking about it more, that students need to feel heard and understood so they don’t feel entirely alone. 

Shehayber’s concerns are not unfounded. Moraine professors, administrators, and students all say they have seen some level of disconnect. Across the country, colleges are experiencing lasting effects of pandemic fatigue on student motivation and participation in class, according to a story in The Chronicle of Higher Education. And teachers say the problem could continue into the future as students who come to college over the next few years may need help finding their enthusiasm for learning again.  

“It’s haunting. It’s like they just don’t talk to each other anymore and they’re just blanked out in the classroom,” says Jenin Shalabi, a substitute middle and high school teacher at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. 

This ghostlike haze of detachment from learning has not only passed over K-12 students, but it has also affected college students, including those at Moraine Valley.

“Recently, in passing I have spoken with several faculty members about classes and students,” vice president of Academic Affairs Pamela Haney said. “To some degree, there is a student-classroom disconnection. Some students might feel overwhelmed trying to navigate changes related to the pandemic, classes, and/or personal challenges.”

Students say they feel the long-term effects of the pandemic on their learning progress.

“The pandemic sort of separated us for a while from our usual teaching schedule, our usual school life,” said first-year student Diego Estrada. “Even though we’ve come back to school, I still feel like there’s this disconnect between ourselves and being able to really learn.” Estrada said online and hybrid classes made it hard for him to stay motivated. For him, these classes were something entirely new, which made for a difficult adjustment.

It’s haunting. It’s like they just don’t talk to each other anymore and they’re just blanked out in the classroom.”

Jenin Shalabi, Teacher

Moraine faculty say they see the disconnect in their classrooms and hear about it through their interactions and conversations with other professors and students. 

Some students seem to have simply forgotten how to learn in a classroom where they must engage with other students and the professor. And students whose first experience with college courses took place during the pandemic may never have figured it out.

“You had more individuals that were teaching themselves; you had individuals that didn’t properly learn how to learn in a face-to-face class,” said psychology professor Nickolas Shizas. “So now that they’re in a face-to-face class, they’re disconnected because they didn’t have the proper socialization in the past two years of how to be in a class.”

Basic social skills have fallen away for some people, making them more introverted in class.

“Because people were so isolated in the past few years, being home and not really talking to people, they’ve gotten used to not socializing a whole lot,” Shizas said. “And so they might not even be connected to the people in their course because they’re so used to not talking.”

Shalabi sees the same thing in younger students–those who may be coming to college in a few years: “Before the pandemic, for the most part, a student didn’t participate for reasons that involved boredom or stress over external issues. Now, these students straight-up lack socialization and human interaction.”

The challenge of keeping people engaged may be compounded in classes where students already felt intimidated by the subject matter.

“A lot of people have math phobia, a fear of being wrong and some hesitancy to speak up,” says math professor Frank Johnson. “I think it has been noticeably different after the pandemic, I’m guessing probably because people who did take classes were doing so in an online environment, and there was less need to be engaged.” 

Now that they’re in a face-to-face class, they’re disconnected because they didn’t have the proper socialization in the past two years of how to be in a class.”

Nick Shizas, Psychology Professor

Extra stress from assimilating back into real life is causing a strain on students, Johnson said. An Education Week survey showed that during the pandemic “39 percent of students surveyed were worried about their education, with a over a quarter of the surveyed teens either losing sleep [or] depressed, and 25 percent feeling isolated from their school communities.”

That worried student mindset has continued to stick around even post-pandemic, Johnson says, with the pressure of stressors such as family members who became ill or changing financial situations.

While the issue is complex and hard to navigate, Shalabi hopes colleges come through to help students get back into the groove of learning.

“I’m hoping that whatever college or university these kids go to implements a plan to help assimilate them back into social interaction,” she said.

Though the disconnect lingers in the air at Moraine, Haney says the college has been addressing the issue of engagement.

“Just to name a few things, some classes have increased faculty-student interaction via WebEx; the Library staff work daily to ensure students have access to laptops and other educational resources; and more in-person events are taking place on campus,” Haney said in an email. “The college continues to provide outlets and find ways to foster student engagement.”