Observations of Growth amidst a Pandemic

At the beginning of the operating restrictions set in place for universities in the Czech Republic, I had doubts and concerns as to how UNYP would successfully transition to online learning and how the students would fare in this transition. With the Spring semester finished and movement restrictions now lifting within the Czech Republic, there are several impressions I have from observing and speaking with students. The swift actions of the UNYP faculty and administration provided a secure foundation on which the students could build and explore several key qualities in a time of crisis-increased resourcefulness, strengthened perseverance, and enhanced self-awareness. These qualities, however, are not isolated to times of crisis but are now interwoven into their ever-evolving sense of self. For students, this is part of where the value of this pandemic lies.

Almost overnight, the students needed to reorient and to prepare themselves to participate in their education remotely. This is not something that our students were used to or signed up for when coming to UNYP, but as it was mandated, it was the new and only direction for them to continue moving forward. Based on this reorientation, the first and seemingly most obvious quality gained was resourcefulness. To attend classes online and to comprehend the course material, a new skill set was required of our students. People may argue that all it took was a good internet connection, but we know that was not the case. The absence of routine study sessions with fellow students, face-to-face guidance from instructors about how to study for a course, and lack of tangible UNYP resources, confounded their well-established learning process. 

Learning new study and class participation skills became vital. Faculty were encouraged to use online forums in addition to or even in place of class discussion to elicit class participation. This required students to engage with course material differently, increase critical thinking, and articulate their understanding and opinions in words, rather than face-to-face. Students who may have previously shied away from participating in class had to break this pattern. They were asked to do this in most classes for the remainder of the semester.

This brings me to the second quality – perseverance. Having no other options for classes and a sharp learning curve for successful online learning, our students needed to learn quickly and to continue refining and challenging themselves in this new dynamic. When I asked Psychology students in one of my classes how they were doing, some said they enjoyed the transition and others expressed great difficulty. The sentiment shared amongst them, though, regardless of how they were doing, was that they needed to keep going to the end of the semester. They were not throwing their hands up in defeat, but acting with maturity, putting their heads down and continuing forward. This is commendable at any age.

The last, and what I believe to be the most fundamental quality gained, is enhanced self-awareness. For some of our students, this pandemic meant spending long stretches of time alone, away from their support system. For anyone, regardless of age, these circumstances would prove challenging. Our students began to share openly in their classes about how they were feeling and what challenges they were experiencing. They recognized this as an opportunity to process the emotions and concerns arising from these newfound circumstances. This is a skill that many older adults still struggle to gain. This enriched self-awareness manifested because the students were monitoring their emotions, reflecting on their behavior, recognizing the need for self-care, and asking for help. This powerful mental health skill set will be an invaluable asset for facing future difficulties, whether academic or otherwise.

The development of these life skills signifies that it is not just high academic marks that indicate a successful semester. As UNYP faculty and staff, it is our responsibility to highlight and further strengthen these previously mentioned qualities in our students over the coming semesters. They have forged ahead in this unprecedented and difficult time to build a solid foundation for any challenges they may face in adulthood.

By Mgr. Justine Piontek

School of Psychology, UNYP

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