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COVID-19: Understanding the Impact of Societal Disruption on Student Learning and Academic Progress

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Mathematics Division Technical Session 3

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Paper Authors


Luke A. Duncan Clemson University

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Luke Duncan is a doctoral student in the Engineering and Science Education Department at Clemson University. His background is in mathematical sciences and mathematics education. Luke's primary research interests include math anxiety and student success in higher education. He is currently involved in projects surrounding the topics of transfer student success, cognitive and symbol load, math anxiety, and qualitative research methods.

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Karen A. High Clemson University

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Dr. Karen High holds an academic appointment in the Engineering Science and Education Department (ESED) at Clemson University. Prior to this Dr. Karen was at Oklahoma State University where she was a professor for 24 years in Chemical Engineering. She received her B.S. in chemical engineering from University of Michigan in 1985 and her M.S. in 1988 and Ph.D. in 1991 in chemical engineering both from Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Karen’s educational research emphasis includes faculty development and mentoring, graduate student development, critical thinking and communication skills, enhancing mathematical student success in Calculus (including Impact of COVID-19), and promoting women in STEM. Her technical research focuses on sustainable chemical process design, computer aided design, and multicriteria decision making. She also has extensive experience in K-12 STEM education and program evaluation and assessment. She has held a variety of administrative positions: 1) Director of STEM Faculty Development Initiatives-Clemson, 2) Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences-Clemson, 3) Interim Director of Student Services-Oklahoma State University, 4) Coordinator of the Women in Engineering Program-Oklahoma State University, and 5) Director of the Oklahoma State University Measurement and Control Engineering Center-Oklahoma State University.

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D. Matthew Boyer Clemson University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Boyer is currently in a joint position as a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering and Science Education and an Educational Proposal Writer in the Office of the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences at Clemson. His work focuses on how technology-enhanced environments support learning.

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Liz McKinley Clemson University

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Liz McKinley is a research and communications intern with the Engineering and Science Education Department at Clemson University. She recently received her Bachelor of Science degree from Clemson in Mathematical Sciences with an emphasis in Computer Science.

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In this paper, we share our study examining how students and faculty cope with disruption to their learning and academic goals amidst the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior studies investigated educational disruption in times of crises. In the case of 9/11, research indicated students were severely at risk for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and other anxiety disorders after terrorist attacks and argued for broadening access to mental health services. Studies conducted in the context of Hurricane Katrina revealed school systems’ lack of preparedness in supporting the needs of students in implementing disaster-focused programs. The studies recommended strengthening communication lines between administration, staff, and parents along with improving emergency preparedness plans to provide for large-scale disasters. Studies conducted to examine the impact of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic on education focused on the difficulties and effectiveness of school closures in preventing the spread of the virus as well as the inadequacies of contingency plans for substituting online learning for face-to-face instruction.

Recent work has referred to this time as one defined by uncertainty. This universal uncertainty is what provides an opportunity to investigate the nature of educational disruption. What makes the COVID-19 crisis different from others? What can we learn from its impact on education that will help educators and educational researchers better support the needs of students, faculty, staff, and administration at educational institutions? Current educational research in the context of COVID-19 highlights low perceptions of morale among faculty, staff, and students accompanied with decline in student engagement as outcomes of switching to online learning. Other research exposes the lack of access to technology.

Our project delivers a snapshot of what happened in a Calculus I course at a Research I university. We surveyed students who took Calculus I during the initial disruption caused by the pandemic in the Spring 2020 semester with a “Navigation of Transition” measure. The survey captured information as to what resources students turned to during the shift to online learning and which resources they intend on using in Calculus II. The survey also helped us to assess how well the students navigated the transition to online learning. Scores from this measure were used to select students for interview. Interviews were also conducted with faculty. Interviews aimed to capture stories which may provide insight into the nature of disruption. Initial thematic coding of student and instructor interviews captured perceptions, concerns, and actions of students and instructors in response to the pandemic and in support of student learning. School- and course-wide initiatives were also identified.

This project is a pilot study and is also a work in progress that emerged from a large-scale, ongoing project focused on transfer students in Engineering and Computer Science Education. The results from this new study are helping to inform a larger, longitudinal project investigating the long-term impact of the pandemic on education.

Duncan, L. A., & High, K. A., & Boyer, D. M., & McKinley, L. (2021, July), COVID-19: Understanding the Impact of Societal Disruption on Student Learning and Academic Progress Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36861

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