‘I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up’: King’s students on pandemic burnout

How the second semester of online learning has affected students’ motivation

I stared at my Microsoft Teams calendar blankly. One of my lectures was set to begin in the next few minutes. I ended up making the executive decision to shut my laptop for the day, and promised myself to catch up later. After checking the lecture’s attendance number out of guilt, I realized many others seemed to have followed suit. 

It’s not hard to see how the current circumstances we find ourselves in have caused a significant amount of stress on students around the country. With the majority of students barred from campus and in-person teaching, the weight of virtual education is starting to expose itself. It goes beyond the want for social contact, we have a need for a social learning environment. The online medium tries its best to replicate that, but it cannot replace it in the long term. This is what we have discovered in the run-up to the first anniversary of virtual teaching.

In an attempt to find out more, The Tab King’s spoke to KCL students on how their motivation has changed in comparison to both last term and the beginning of the pandemic:

Lack of motivation

Second year Pharmacology student Isabella told The King’s Tab: “I cannot find the motivation to do anything […] I feel like I can only force myself to do the bare minimum”.

International Relations student Helena said: “I have never been so stressed […] as I am now”. Like others, she is suffering from a lack of motivation and added: “I don’t mean to sound dark, but university just seems so demotivating”.

Struggling with work

Another common theme among students was struggling with coursework and workload. Whilst many students acknowledged that the amount of work was what they expected to find in their year, they were mostly unsatisfied with the quality of their own work. Furthermore, many found the process of completing coursework a lot more difficult than first term.

Biology student Blanca told The King’s Tab: “This has affected my performance. My grades may not have gone down massively but it’s noticeable to me. I feel like we’ve been left to fend for ourselves and figure it all out.”

Attendance is down, engagement is even worse

In a survey conducted by The Tab King’s, out of 825 students, 63 per cent said that their attendance was worse this year compared to attendance for in-person teaching last year.

When asked why he believed his attendance to be worse, International Relations student Ansh replied: “It’s just not as fun.”

Those with less frequent attendance of class generally agreed that if they knew they weren’t going to be mentally present it was easier just not to go. It is not a testament to learning quality- many agreed that staff were doing their best to make things run smoothly.

Most students have not been on campus for regular classes since March 2020

Whilst the commute to campus last year may have made some students reconsider their will to attend a 9 am lecture, being able to open either Zoom or Teams in your pyjamas has made that choice a lot easier. When else would it be socially acceptable to eat breakfast, have a nap, or work out during an otherwise boring lecture?

Of those who believed their attendance was better, nearly all provided similar reasoning. It was easier to join the class from wherever they were currently at, but most did not feel mentally engaged in a way comparable to the year before.

In a follow-up poll run by The Tab King’s, 84 per cent of 894 students said that their engagement in the lessons they did attend was worse than their previous engagement for in-person lessons. This percentage was far higher than the figure for worse attendance- showing that whilst a reasonable number of students are still attending their classes, they are not getting as much out of their classes as they were pre-pandemic.

Second-year History student Emilia told The King’s Tab: “My attendance is better because I can just open my laptop but… my attention isn’t really there”.

The feeling of being part of something is missing, and that is something I believe we all underestimated. Students are struggling to continue being mentally present, engaged and incentivized. Our association with video calling has become one with work, and consequently, so many of us have struggled to enjoy social activities using the medium. 

A member of the SSPP teaching staff told The King’s Tab: “In the first term we all understood that this was an extraordinary situation that we had to make the best of. But I think the students have become demoralized when they consider that this may be long term. Students are engaging less than at the beginning of the term, and staff are struggling to become more creative in their teaching”.

While the situation may seem despairing, there is optimism from both students and staff. Many of us are looking forward to getting back to campus and for the time being, we can find strength in knowing we’re not alone. 

One student told The Tab King’s: “It can get overwhelming but I power through. It’s just a matter of getting through it.”

King’s students can find many helpful resources on Student Services Online. If you find that a lack of motivation is obstructing your everyday life, don’t be afraid to contact the counselling services offered by KCL. Additionally, there are many wellbeing events offered by the KCLSU, as well as those partnered with King’s. This is a struggle that staff and students alike are battling, so remember to be kind to yourself and get help when you need it.

You can also find more information about King’s mental health services here.

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