Online educational resources provide much-needed support
I’ve had the good fortune to have three distinct careers: teaching for 27 years at the University of Maryland, College Park, and, recently, at Johns Hopkins University; serving in elected office for 31 yearsl and leading a national environmental advocacy organization for two decades. Looking back over the years, it is clear that teaching was the most rewarding, inspiring and most fun of all my professions.
This year, however, was different. While the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging and stressful for me, the teacher, it was evident that many students were experiencing challenges with isolation, anxiety and other mental health issues.
As so many of my academic colleagues understand, the tumultuous events of the past year highlighted the importance of mental health in all aspects of life, especially for students. As summer comes to an end and the start of another school year begins, returning college students will face a challenging learning environment that those who came before them could never have imagined. With the threat of the delta variant continuing to grow, and many students already grappling with pandemic-induced depression and anxiety, education providers will need to ensure that students receive additional support and are provided with the resources they need to succeed academically despite these novel challenges.
While the benefits of higher education are enormous, college students must contend with the anxiety caused by the daily academic and social pressures of university life. Often, this anxiety can find its way into the classroom, negatively affecting the ability of students to focus on their studies in a traditional learning environment.
Unfortunately, mental health challenges have been further exacerbated by the fear, grief and loneliness that many young people have experienced throughout the pandemic. A recent survey found that roughly 95 percent of college students have felt negative mental health symptoms because of the pandemic, and nearly half believe that this has impacted their education. As students return to school this fall, whether they’re attending remote, in-person or hybrid classes, administrators and faculty must be ready to meet this new challenge head-on, as they seek to keep their students happy, healthy and engaged. To achieve this, educators must be prepared to support students seeking aid for their education outside the classroom and encourage them to take advantage of the tools available to them, such as online educational support, instead of clamping down on students’ ability to access these resources.
Most students and faculty who have experienced remote learning over the past year agree online courses cannot fully replace the traditional face-to-face classroom experience. However, while there is no replacement for in-person instruction, the pandemic has demonstrated that online learning tools can offer very effective supplementary support. When done correctly, reinforcing remote and hybrid classes with study guides and support found on Google and YouTube or through supplemental studying platforms like Chegg and Khan Academy can foster effective self-study among students and provide them with the confidence to succeed in school.
Additionally, this type of online learning support can help those students struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges who feel uncomfortable asking their professors for additional help. Online education platforms can provide supplemental instruction that enables students to maximize their learning experience in the environments where they feel most comfortable.
Furthermore, because these resources are online, students are not constrained to the schedule of their professors or campus tutors, and can instead seek help when they need it, regardless of the time of day. College students who are given access to online educational tools this fall may have a better chance of gaining lost ground from a period of pandemic learning and may even perform better. Given the novel challenges that students will face this fall, having the option to utilize online educational materials for self-study and to access help when it’s needed is more important than it’s ever been.
The evolving and changing nature of our modern world requires education providers to rethink how we meet student needs for learning and how we consider students holistically. Today’s student has experienced struggles like few others. Educators and academic institutions should prioritize finding pathways to assist students to succeed using all the tools at their disposal, including online educational support.
For many of us, college was a period of our lives that we look back on with fondness and appreciation. Today’s students deserve the same experience, regardless of the challenges they face.
Parris N. Glendening, Ph.D., is a former governor of Maryland (1995-2003) and a 27-year professor at the University of Maryland.