The flow of online lessons and the lack of contact is breaking students more and more. Fortunately, there are ways to fight the loneliness.
“Students are having a hard time these days”, Minister of Education Van Engelshoven wrote in a letter to the house of Representatives at the end of November. “They struggle with the loneliness and self-regulation that distance learning demands from them. Studying at home is experienced as difficult as well.”
Windesheim students are experts regarding that. The one part of the day a week that they are still at school, in combination with the many online lectures leads to all kinds of problems, according to student psychologists, general student counsellors, study counsellors and the Zwolle Student Consultation Body (SOOZ). Students are therefore easily distracted, have more difficulty with planning and organizing, have more stress, concentration and motivation problems and they more often feel like they are left to their own devices.
In addition, they are disappointed by the lack of physical contact with fellow students and teachers. For first-year students it is extra difficult: their bond with classmates, teachers, study program and the work field is developing very slowly.
Hours behind a laptop screen
Rianne Zijlstra, a third-year student at the teacher education in Biology, is sick of all the online lessons. “On some days, we have to be behind our screen from eight till five O`clock to listen to our teachers. You look at your screen all the time. You just get tired of it. Then it is very difficult to stay concentrated. ” Rianne more often feels like she is left on her own to study: “I especially don’t know how to deal with drawbacks.’’ I know teachers work extra hard to make online education as organised as possible, but it still asks more independence from students.
Although she got excellent grades in the first period, Imane El Moussaoui, first-year student Business Administration, indicates that she finds it difficult to stay focused. “During online lectures, everyone turns their sound and camera off. It is not pleasant to follow a lecture like that. I can see my teacher talking, it is like watching a movie on YouTube. I don’t feel like I am really in contact with the teacher.”
Imane experiences the same thing with classmates: “The motivation is sometimes hard to find. Some prefer to stay in bed in the morning lie down and watch the lecture later. There is no one checking if you are still wearing pyjamas while sitting behind your desk.” That’s why, she says, for some students, it is difficult to stay in a normal daily routine. “You have to find the motivation to get up, to shower and to get dressed.”
Fourth-year fellow student Laura Kiezebrink also sometimes finds it difficult to concentrate during online lectures. She has a good environment to study at home, yet she is easily distracted. “The dog demands attention or you go downstairs for something to eat.”
Communicating with fellow students and teachers in particular has become more difficult. Fourth-year student HBO ICT Melvin Winia explains that he never speaks to his classmates anymore. He only has contact with his project group, a group of four. And that does not always go smooth either. “The communication is more difficult, which sometimes causes friction. It’s more difficult to interpret people’s intentions because you are staring at a screen. We have recently started working at school every Wednesday, that works so much better than talking to four heads on my screen.
Worrying and overthinking
Student psychologists Noor Carp and Astrid Vlak from the Windesheim Study Success Center notice different effects of distance education on students. Carp: “We feel for people who are smart but are massive overthinkers as well.” she observes. The study material will just be empty words if you are only looking at a screen: “It becomes less real, less important almost. You can close the screen and it’s gone.”
Astrid Vlak notices that many students also experience great difficulty with sitting in their room all day. “Everything happens in those few square meters.” In addition, social life is on the back burner. Vlak: “There are some fun, energetic things that students cannot participate in right now. It’s getting harder to bring excitement into your day.” Carp points out that this is extra difficult for some: “For example someone who finds it difficult to make social contacts but went to a music club every week. If that disappears and someone like that is alone all day in his or her room, yes, then loneliness is inevitable.”
Sabine Reinaardus, teacher and tutor within the Social work study program, spoke with various students about their studies. Indeed, some students feel lonely, she says. “Or they experience more stress and fear because they wonder if they will make it in terms of study.”
Initiatives from Windesheim
Windesheim showed initiatives to prevent this. For example, the Ambulatorium provides training in dealing with things like stress & tension, fear of failure and planning & to organize. Michiel Warmerdam: “Teachers in student career counselling (SLB) and general study counsellors say students find it difficult to get studying. That is why attention to social cohesion and students` feelings is extra important. We also notice this with the students who attend training courses on campus.” Recently a pilot started within the Ambulatorium: “studying in times of corona”, a group offerinvolving students from various study programs that will work together to answer the questions mentioned above.
The SOOZ has also dipped their toes into the water. The Student Consultation Body Zwolle has an online meeting platform. Soon every student from Zwolle will be able to access it. Chairman Emma van de Poll: “We hope that students find it easier to meet here. You can ask questions, play online games and work together or schedule an appointment to take a walk together.”
Little to no bonding among first-year students
Reinaardus sees that studying in corona time is extra difficult for first-year students compared to senior students: higher education is often completely new to them. Planning well and organizing can be quite a challenge and they don’t know their way around Windesheim or their study programme at all. She is involved in the student coaching project, in which first-year students are linked to a senior ‘buddy’ to whom they can ask study-related questions.
“First-year students experience that they still don’t know each other after period 1. They don’t make appointments to meet up, they cannot organise that properly themselves. They do text each other, but that is not nearly as constructive and useful as when they just go to school together.” Jantina Bremer is involved in the project from Almere student coaching. “I sometimes hear: I’m going to a college, but actually I don’t feel much for that yet.’’
One of the participants is first-year student Imane, who succinctly summarizes the problem:
“I have eight classmates and I don’t know more than those eight people at Windesheim. I hardly have any contact with my classmates. I don’t know how old they are and I have no clue where they come from.” Back in the days you constantly ran into acquaintances at Windesheim, says fourth-year fellow student Laura, who is linked to Imane as a student coach. “Or you went to the city centre together. That happens a lot less now, unfortunately. I liked going to school because of the social contacts.”
Melvin Winia coaches two first-year students who both have a functional limitation. He has been speaking to them every week since September. But he has never seen them in person. “We are virtual people to each other. That makes it more difficult to discuss personal matters. If you could just have a chat in the corridors or drink coffee together, then you build a bond faster than online. In real life, you are more open to one another.”
This largely online form of education also has some benefits. Less travel time for example. And students can look at lectures when they think it suits them best. Noor Carp: “Students who are sensitive to stimuli can actually benefit in this situation. It can calm them because they are not constantly physically in one room with other people.”
Rianne Zijlstra sees another plus. “You`ll enjoy it even more when you see each other again on campus. “She finds it reassuring to hear that others experience this period as stressful and difficult as well. “In this lonely period, I feel a little less lonely.’’
Help from Windesheim
Are you a student and can you use some help? You can talk to study counsellors but Windesheim has more to offer.
- For those who find it difficult to put themselves to work and lack structure and overview, the ‘Studeertrein’ has recently been installed. A virtual place via Teams where a student registers in the morning, expresses what he or she wants to do that day and is then accompanied by a ‘tour guide’ during the day. Sign Up? Email email@example.com.
- In May, the Student Coaching project was started in all domains. First-year students are hereby linked to seniors. These ‘buddies’ can support with study skills such as learning to study, organize, schedule and help you stick to that schedule and get and keep an overview. Coach and coachee agree together how often they are in contact. Sign Up? Search Sharenet for ‘student coach’ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Windesheim Ambulatory offers individual training around stress & tension and planning & organizing. It’s about (active) working methods that will give you insight in your own thinking, feeling and doing. Search Sharenet for ‘Ambulatorium’ or email email@example.com.
- Students can also report to the Study Success Center. This includes the general student counsellor, student psychologists and the coordinators for students with a (learning) disability. They can be found at the desk in C086 or on Sharenet using the keyword Study Success Center. (‘Studiesuccescentrum’)
Text: Reinhilde van Aalderen and Wouter van Emst
Photos: Gerben Rink