June 1, 2021

Hear From Students Directly About Their Experiences With Technology

Designing Experiences, Webinar

How have students been using technology during the pandemic to learn, access support services, and find community? How well are institutions navigating the new hybrid worlds of work and learning? Are equity gaps widening or closing?

We discussed these questions and more with three members of brightspot’s Council of Student Advisors for the 2021 ELI Annual Conference:

  • Fernando Sánchez López, College of Marin
  • Ayman Siam, New York University
  • Natalie Passov, University of Massachusetts Amherst

In our session, we heard directly from Fernando, Ayman, and Natalie about their experiences with technology during the pandemic. We also shared student experience trends and results from our recent student experience survey to bring a national perspective.

Together, these stories and stats help institutions make the shift from looking for college-ready students to becoming a student-ready college or university as they reimagine the programs, services, and facilities they offer, how they operate, and how they are organized.

Here’s what we learned about how students used technology in the last year.

Using Technology to Find Community 

As Student Body President, Fernando used Zoom on a weekly basis to check in with other members of the Associated Students of College of Marin and strategize on ways to support their fellow students. He also used Zoom to create non-academic virtual spaces like Game Nights and Movie Nights to serve as a place for students to relax connect socially.

Both Ayman and Natalie appreciated how technology gave them the opportunity to connect with and learn from mentors and organizations beyond their current geographic locations in ways that probably wouldn’t have happened pre-pandemic.

Using Technology to Create

In fall 2020, the College of Marin created a Student Emergency Assistance Fund for students who were impacted financially during the pandemic and required additional support. Whereas in the past a promotional letter might have been sent to donors in the Marin community to help support the Fund, Fernando created a promotional video that was shared with donors to raise awareness and support of the Fund. The video had more reach than a physical mailing and benefited from being told from a student’s perspective. The Fund was able to support around 500 Marin students – a very impressive impact!

As a communications intern at Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions, Natalie expanded her knowledge in Adobe Creative Suite to help design and publish reports and briefs for the Center. On the marketing front, she also used graphic design platforms like Canva and Adobe Spark.

Making Your Voice Heard With Technology

Mental health has been at the forefront of so many pandemic discussions over the past year, especially when it comes to students. For his non-profit youth program, Ayman facilitated virtual workshops around mental health, masculinity, and gender norms as a way to educate peers (and himself) and grow together. This virtual community was a vital outlet for sharing what peers were going through, together.

Using Technology to Succeed

With the influx of virtual meetings, both Ayman and Natalie heavily relied on Google Calendar to remain organized and accountable. Additional apps that helped the students succeed include:

  • Notion – All-in-one workspace
  • Notability – Note taking
  • Forest – Staying focused (and off of your phone!)

Moments of Frustration With Technology

Two moments of frustration that Fernando shared were regarding climate change and “Zoom fatigue.” As a California resident, Fernando was impacted by power outages due to the wildfires (and wildfire prevention) over the past year. Without power, our virtual lives are put on hold: no access to Wi-Fi, inability to charge devices, etc. With students and faculty spread out throughout California, some areas were impacted while others were not, making communication between groups difficult.

Fernando also experienced the exhaustion that comes with excessive screen time and attending additional virtual meetings on top of his course load. He and his peers at Marin recognized that no one wants to attend more meetings than they have to, so as Student Body President, he advocated for taking advantage of existing virtual meetings and spaces, rather than creating new ones.

Advice for Colleges and Universities in Fall 2021

As a wrap-up to our session, we asked our student panelists what advice they have for their schools as they plan for the fall semester. As you think about Fall 2021, consider these reflections that were shared with us:

  • Not all student experiences are the same – Fernando encouraged institutions to always look at challenging situations using an equity lens. Different students have different needs, and even though we might be facing a similar challenges (like the pandemic) the solutions are not always the same.
  • Treat students as people outside of the classroom – A lot of the expectations that colleges and universities have for their students outside of the classroom that would be challenging during a normal semester can become very overwhelming during a semester like the ones we’ve just lived through. Natalie highlighted that accelerated semesters with no breaks equals burnout, and stressed the importance of wellness breaks in virtual settings.
  • Don’t throw away what we learned – Ayman wants colleges and universities to embrace the good things that came out of the pandemic – like recording classes, uploading notes to a digital platforms, etc. – when we we return to in-person learning.

Watch our full discussion below.