The part the online portal or dimension is missing is the small interaction, because online doesn´t allow you to have those little moments in between. Once you come to a meeting it is 10 am sharp and then you finish and then you leave. So, there is not that three minutes before when you have a chat with your friends, or afterwards. That´s the biggest change. And having this decrease of these interactions and everything, then you lose that connection and trust.
We start with a quote from an interview with a student in spring 2022 on the topic of the impact of online learning on embodied encounters. This interview was conducted for our paper at Edulearn22 conference. During the writing process, we named the study “What happened to us?” and this initial question also remained in the final title. So, what happened to our wellbeing and the learning community in a disembodied online learning environment?
Back to collaboration and teamwork
During the Covid19 pandemic we may have succeeded in offering courses online. However, in terms of learning community there was a loss in vitality and cohesion.
To understand the outcome of prolonged online learning off campus, we turn to visceral knowledge. How do we feel in our bodies after having been confined to the limited space of a computer screen? From the perspective of wellbeing, it is important to address the wisdom of the body. We started the interviews for our conference paper with the question: Where in the body do you place the memory of lockdown?
Autumn semester 2022 started with classroom teaching on campus. Yet, teachers have expressed concerns about an increase in absences and half-empty classrooms. How do we get students back to campus?
Another consideration is related to collaborative competencies. The willingness to engage in teamwork seems to have declined and many students openly express a dislike for group work in the classroom setting. The number of attendees is uncertain and requests for a zoom-link keep dropping into the email five minutes before the start of a lesson. These kinds of ad hoc hybrid solutions are not optimal for creating an engaging learning experience for participants.
A Healing Community
There are signs of a significant decrease in mental wellbeing among university students. Initially, it must be acknowledged that as a community we are in a healing process. Something essential in terms of human interaction was lost during lockdown and there is a need to rebuild the trust and connection within learning communities.
We cannot return to normal as if nothing had happened. Healing takes time and space; for some students it might be challenging to live up to the demands of efficient academic performance. Thus, they ought to be encouraged to resume their studies at their own pace.
For those who started their studies online, we should provide the opportunity for serendipitous encounters outside the classroom – those precious “three minutes” that can turn into a longer discussion over lunch. At the end, student life is very much about networking and socializing outside the classroom.
Finally, from the perspective of wellbeing, we need to stop and ask ourselves “how do I feel”? And we should ask our fellow students and colleagues “how are you today”? For the sake of healing, it is important to get people back to campus so that we can laugh – and cry together.
As a learning community we should take time to discuss what has happened to us emotionally. Or, alternatively, what kind of visceral memories do our bodies carry as a result of lockdown– maybe a stiff neck, pain in the back or weakened eyesight?
Gradually, we will find a way back to socializing and being together as a community in a three-dimensional space, as opposed to the black box of a muted computer screen.
At the end, embodied encounters are all about improving the students’ wellbeing, teachers’ wellbeing and building a healthy learning community. As a tribute to visceral knowledge, we choose to end this article with the first lines from Walt Whitman´s poem Song of the Open Road.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Kiviaho-Kallio, P. & Dimkar, A. 2022. What Happened to Us: The Effects of Online Learning on Embodied Encounters during Covod19. Edulearn22 Proceedings.