Authors: Karen Cheng, Trinnity Ye, Fabliha Fairuz, Eric Fang, Jason Lin, Daniel Mba, Mahima Akter, Saarah Elberhoumi
Contributors: Nish-Hoa, Zainab, Baghdad Numi, Jason Lin, Aboubacar Sow, Sablonda Alteus, Alyssa Smith, Ritik Gera
Abstract– The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of millions of students giving rise to the pressing concern of its impact on education. All levels of education face the challenge of maintaining high quality learning while still following CDC guidelines. While previous literature has shown that anxiety and self-reported stress are common reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is little to no research on the direct relationship between the pandemic and student productivity. Through the usage of survey questions inspired from PhenX, our team correlated data on the effect of COVID-19 influencing student productivity. Centered on middle school students and above, our research found the productivity of students to be negatively impacted with imposed restrictions of COVID-19 and quarantine. A significant number of participants became less active physically and had time management difficulties and handling online classes. Overall, COVID-19 has surely increased anxiety and fears in people.
Keywords-COVID-19, quarantine, productivity, mental health
“But what do I do at home?” This has been the most frequently asked question since the past year when SARS-CoV-2 virus distorted the lives of millions of people. Originating in December of 2019, the novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) began to spread globally. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the disease a pandemic. Many countries took varied action against COVID-19 and implemented mitigation procedures (WHO, 2020). Particularly, United States President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic to be a national emergency. COVID-19 changed daily life for United States citizens by affecting healthcare, education, labor, transportation, finance, economy, housing, and cultural activities due to enforced federal guidelines to alleviate the spread. Previous research has shown that the boredom, loss of freedom, separation from loved ones, and uncertainty produced from COVID-19 could deteriorate an individual’s mental health (Rajkumar, 2020). Students comprise one of the massive groups impacted the most from the pandemic. Additionally, since education and schools are large institutions that promote social gatherings almost every day, new guidelines and programs must be created in order to lessen the spread. Most of these new guidelines do not have studies and are largely untested; there is little information whether these guidelines deter from a student’s mental and physical health or academic achievement. Therefore, this research focuses on investigating the direct relationship between the pandemic and student productivity.
According to previous studies (Gramigna, 2020), campus closures and the general response to the pandemic have “fundamentally shifted” the sense of belonging for college students. Additionally, college students are predicted to experience increased depression, loneliness, anxiety, fueled by the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 (Gramigna, 2020). The behavior of people during this outbreak can largely affect the dynamic of the pandemic by changing the severity, transmission, disease flow, morbidity and mortality rates worldwide (Javed et al., 2020). Furthermore, large-scale psychosocial crisis interventions, and the incorporation of mental health care in disaster management plans in the future may be required if the spread of COVID-19 leads to an actual mental health crisis (Rajkumar, 2020). On the positive side, in consideration for students finishing the 2019-2020 school year under unique circumstances, education systems and leaders are working hard to ensure that students are adequately prepared to advance. Moreover, maintaining the institution’s academic standards, colleges and universities are weighing what can be fairly expected from students when evaluating students for admission (Anderson, 2020).
The primary importance of the study was to gather information on how students are coping during the pandemic with classes/work switching online. The results of the cross sectional study could be used to assess which strategies are working for students and hence, what additional policies could be established in the future for better productivity of students. Mental health and reaction of participants to the pandemic has also been studied qualitatively in the study as the effects of pandemic on one’s mental health have not been studied extensively and are still unknown (Javed et al., 2020). The results of the study could be used to develop guidelines or activities to boost mental health and satisfaction in the future. It was hypothesized that there was a decrease in student productivity as a result of remote learning during COVID-19. Specifically, we sampled students from the United States and investigated their levels of productivity with participants answering our survey questions. These data were used to establish a negative relationship between COVID-19 and student productivity and see qualitatively how mental health had generally been impacted.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The study sample included 104 participants in total from a time frame of July 2020 till September 2020 by distribution of online Google surveys. In order to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student productivity, we sampled mental health-related questions from PhenX Toolkit for our Google Form survey. Most of the questions asked for experiences felt within the past 14 days; other questions were general and related to the whole pandemic situation. The survey included several questions to assess how COVID-19 is affecting students from the beginning of the pandemic. The survey was distributed among students with a variety of social demographics using our existing exposure in social media. The collected data included differences in daily life physical activities, experiences through the pandemic, changes in social contacts, impact on time management skills and expectations of work, how helpful remote learning was to students and lastly, the best ways in which participants subsisted through the pandemic.
Our target demographic was United States students who currently experience the impact of distance learning in their daily lives. We received a total of 104 responses. Generally, our survey was taken by younger members of society with a significant portion
(96.1%) aged 14-24 years. We had approximately an equal amount of male and female answers, with 49% of the respondents being female and the remaining 51% being male. The majority of the participants (87.5%) were not of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. The most common ethnicities were of Asian origin, with 36.5% of the participants being Chinese, 13.5% being Asian Indian, and 10.6% being other Asian. Another common ethnicity among the participants was White, which took up 26.9% of the responses. When asked about “the highest level of education,” 41.3% of respondents were 10th graders. Some (20.2%) said that they had some college education, but no degree. Moreover, 11th graders constituted 14.4% and 7.7% had a Bachelor’s degree (EXAMPLE: BA, AB, BS, BBA). Our data was consolidated mostly of high school students whose policies will vary greatly from where they are from and the amount of funding they get for their schools. Even so, remote learning was enforced in all United States schools (public or private) (Anderson, 2020). According to the answers for the “current employment status” question, the majority (76.9%) were students and 14.4% were workers.
Assessing Productivity of Respondents
Pandemic experiences and feelings:
Majority of the survey participants responded negatively to the question, “In the past 14 days, to what extent have you experienced the following?” Although most participants were able to moderately plan activities and review work, they were still moderately thinking about COVID-19, quite a bit easily distracted, and slightly forgetful in daily activities (Figure 1a).
Figure 1a Experiences felt by participants while navigating through the pandemic. As seen from the tallest bars represented on the bar chart above, most participants thought a lot about COVID-19 moderately, were easily distracted quite a bit and became slightly forgetful in daily activities. Some proportions of the participants (around 7.5%) also had extreme racing thoughts along with the majority of participants having moderate difficulty in being able to plan activities or reviewing work.
In another question “In the past 14 days, to what extent have you experienced the following?” The most common response was “not at all.” This shows how the majority of the participants were not restless to the point where they cannot sit still and were not able to control worrying. However, a considerable number of people felt nervous, worried, afraid, irritable, and had trouble relaxing (Figure 1b).This could lead to decreased productivity because if people do not feel confident and relaxed, they tend to be less efficient overall.
Figure 1b Experiences reported by participants regarding the pandemic. A significant proportion (around 35%) of the participants felt nervous, anxious or on edge with around 30% participants worrying about too many different things. Additionally, around 40% participants felt afraid that something awful may happen. However, the majority of the surveyees did not feel extremely restless.
Most of the participants (35.6%) found that changes in social contacts were moderately stressful and 25% found the changes slightly stressful (Figure 2).
Figure 2 Stressful changes in social contacts according to participants. A significant proportion of participants (35.6%) moderately felt changes in social contacts have been stressful. Furthermore, 19.2% of the participants were very stressed about the changes in their social contacts.
Effectiveness of Remote Learning:
Approximately a third (33.7%) of the respondents felt online classes were as helpful as in-person classes. However, the majority (40.4%) of the participants felt online classes were helpful to either no or little extent and 25.9% found online classes to be helpful or very helpful (Figure 3a). Most of the survey respondents had a positive response towards the question, “Have you performed up to your expectations as a result of distance learning?” Of the participants, 41.3% performed to their expectations while 27.9% did not. The remaining 21.2% responded with ‘maybe’ and 9.6% said ‘not sure’ (Figure 3b).
Figure 3a The extent to which participants found online classes to be helpful. Majority (40.4%) of the participants found online classes to be slightly or not at all helpful. Additionally, 33.7% participants thought online classes were helpful to the same extent as in person classes. A smaller percentage (6.7%) of the surveyees found online learning to be very helpful.
Figure 3b Participants’ performance according to their expectations as a result of distance learning. A significant percentage (58.7%) of the participants did not perform up to their expectations or they were unsure about their performance due to distance learning. However, 41.3% reported that they had performed up to their expectations even in distant learning circumstances.
Effect of restrictions on regular life activities due to COVID-19 enforcements:
Before quarantine, most of the respondents often engaged in recreational physical activities, work physical activities, spent time sitting, spent time walking in neighborhoods/trails/parks, and sometimes engaged in household physical activities. However, during quarantine, the frequency of engagement in physical activities decreased. For example, 31 people (29.8%) reported that they engaged in recreational physical activity very often before quarantine, which later decreased to 13 (12.5%) after quarantine. Another example would be that 35 (33.7%) participants reported being engaged in work physical activity often before quarantine. This number decreased to 23 (22.1%) after quarantine. In addition, during quarantine, most of the participants rarely spent time walking in neighborhoods/trails/parks and very often spent time sitting (Figure 4).
Figure 4 Effect of quarantine restrictions on different daily life activities of participants.As seen from the results above, most people who walked very often in their neighborhood decreased walking due to quarantine and very often just sat. Most participants in each category also reported an increase in the engagement of household activities during quarantine. However, work and physical activities along with recreational activities decreased during quarantine for the majority of participants.
Effect of restrictions on students’ studies and work
When asked “How has quarantine impacted your student status?” almost half (45.2%) of the respondents have been studying with decreased hours than before quarantine. On the other hand, 26.0% have been studying with increased hours than before quarantine and 28.8% had no change (Figure 5a). Most of the participants (41.3%) had the same expectations of their work since remote learning. Approximately a third of the respondents (36.5%) had lower expectations and 22.1% had higher expectations (Figure 5b). Responding to “How have your time management skills been affected since remote learning?” Majority (29.8%) and 12.5% of the people reported that their time management skills became “disorganized” and “very disorganized” respectively since remote learning. In contrast to this, 25.0% and 7.7% of the participants stated that their time management skills have been “organized” and “very organized” since remote learning respectively (Figure 5c).
Figure 5a How students’ studying hours were affected. A significant amount (45.2%) of students studied but with decreased study hours compared to the hours they spent before the pandemic restrictions. For 28.8% of the participants, there was no change in their patterns of study hours and for the other 26%, their study hours increased.
Figure 5b Effect of remote learning on participants’ expectations of work. The work expectations were the same for most of the participants (40%) and for around 18% of the surveyees, the expectations of work were more. Additionally, 30% participants reported less expectations of work due to the pandemic.
Figure 5c Effect of remote learning on time management. A large fraction (42.3%) of the surveyees reported their time management skills to become disorganized or very disorganized since remote learning. A smaller proportion (7.7%) of the participants had very organized time management skills since remote learning.
How participants are coping with COVID-19 restrictions
There was a wide variety of responses to how the participants coped during the pandemic. The most common responses were getting a good night’s rest (16.3%), eating comfort foods (16.7%), and exercising (17.8%). A considerable amount of people coped by engaging in more family activities (12%), helping others (10.1%), and eating healthier (11.2%). Other responses to coping included hobbies such as playing an instrument (4%) and playing video games (6.5%) (Figure 6a). During the quarantine, more than half (62.5%) of the survey respondents socialized with their family or friends everyday virtually. Approximately a third (35.6%) of the respondents socialized sometimes and the remaining 1.9% did not socialize at all (Figure 6b). Moreover, 89.4% of the people did not talk with a therapist at all. A small fraction of the participants (9.6%) sometimes talked with a therapist and 1% talked to a therapist everyday (Figure 6c) as a coping mechanism.
Figure 6a Most popular ways to cope during COVID-19 according to the participants. Exercising, eating healthier and comfort foods along with sleeping properly helped participants cope during the pandemic. Additionally, they engaged in more family activities or helping others.
Figure 6b How often participants socialized with friends/family virtually.A significant percentage (62.5%) of the participants communicated with their loved ones by texting or calling or video calling everyday. A very small proportion (1.9%) of the participants did not engage in these activities at all.
Figure 6c How often participants consulted therapists. A very significant proportion of the participants (89.4%) did not need a therapist at all. However, 9.6% of the surveyees took help from a therapist sometimes and 1% reported talking with a therapist everyday.
–Interpretation of the Results and Implications
The largest age group of the 104 participants in our survey were between 14-24 years old and students, respectively. Therefore, we could successfully reach our target audience of the student population. Also, our results have taken the different combination of ethnicities and sex into consideration to reduce bias.
According to the data, most people were easily distracted quite a bit and were only slightly focused. They were significantly stressful about changes in social contacts and became easily annoyed or irritable for several days as a result of overall COVID-19 restrictions. Participants have found it hard to control worrying and have been anxious about different things all together.
In accordance with the results found, the productivity of students has decreased notably. Even though most participants were restricted to their houses, they engaged in household physical activities sometimes only. Frequently, they have been spending time just sitting. Thus, a significant portion of them have reported that their time management skills have become disorganized and online classes have not been helpful or slightly helpful compared to in-person classes. This is because only nearly ⅓ of the participants found online classes to be just as helpful as in-person classes. The majority of those surveyed reported that their expectations of work since remote learning were similar, more or much more. Though we have a small sample size of participants, we can get a glimpse of how COVID-19 restrictions and quarantine may impact negatively on student productivity.
Amidst all the stress, most people communicated with their family and friends virtually over the course of the restrictive periods or during quarantine. Exercising, having healthier foods and getting good sleep were the most popular ways in which our participants coped with their anxieties. They have also reported talking to therapists, playing games, watching movies and carrying out other hobbies as beneficial.
–Limitations of Study
On the contrary, there are some limitations of the research. The sample size of 104 participants for the study was relatively small which may not necessarily accurately portray how COVID-19 affected the vast number of people living in the United States. Furthermore, the results were collected for a proportionately short amount of time of 3 months and using just our social media platforms, it was difficult to reach a large number of audience for the distribution of our Google survey. Moreover, our survey provided us qualitative representations of the questions we investigated regarding student productivity, pandemic coping mechanisms and mental health overall. Furthermore, quantitative analysis of our results could have shown better significance of the impact of COVID-19.
Despite the limitations of the study, the investigation may be concluded as successful as it provides evidence of degraded mental health, and less productivity of the participants owing to the pandemic. In contrast, the opinions of people vary and therefore, just one Google survey may not be the best approach to predict the definite impact of COVID-19 enforcements on student productivity. However, using our findings, we can partially have an idea as to how COVID-19 restrictions may have an adverse effect on the productivity of students. Since our survey has not reached the entire nation of the United States, additional ways of distributing the survey such as giving advertisements in newspapers, or manually distributing survey printouts in places such as schools and colleges could have been employed. Thus, further research methods are required to get the bigger picture in real sense. Based on our qualitative observations of various beneficial coping mechanisms and how COVID-19 impacted people, especially students in general, further studies need to be conducted on useful techniques to be developed for the betterment of students.
We thank Mentoring in Medicine Inc. for providing the resources and leadership necessary to collect sufficient data for analysis and to synthesize this data into a coherent paper. I also thank Mr. Andrew Morrison and the MIM Leadership Team for coordinating the internship under which the paper was written and providing a timeline for its publication.
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