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The impact of COVID-19 on higher education: A study of interaction among Kosovar students’ mental health, attitudes toward online learning, study skills, and lifestyle changes

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Chapter Summary: Measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a rapid shift to online learning, have affected higher education worldwide. This chapter presents the findings of the study which investigated the attitudes of Kosovar students towards distance/online learning, including the interactions between learning skills, student life, anxiety and perceived stress. Research design with mixed quantitative and qualitative methods was used for this study. The study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase, standardized scales and open-ended questions were administered to (N = 78) students from the Department of Psychology, University of Prishtina. In the second phase a focus group discussion was conducted to analyze the results of the data extracted in the first phase. Most students reported moderate levels of perceived stress and mild psychological and somatic anxiety. Perceived stress has been proven to have a moderately positive interaction with learning skills, particularly with time management and procrastination, as well as student life. Psychological anxiety has turned out to be predicted by perceived stress, while perceived stress by student life The students stated that engaging in online learning enabled them to divert attention from the pandemic, while emotional support from teachers made it easier for them to cope with this period. However, lack of attention and concentration, decreased motivation to attend lectures and learning, limited space at home, distraction from family members and taking on multiple tasks while learning online were the main challenges faced by students during online learning. Within this chapter, recommendations are presented for opportunities to increase the quality of higher education and also for student support related to mental health.
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Chapter 2
The impact of COVID-19 on higher education: A study
of interaction among Kosovar students’ mental health,
attitudes toward online learning, study skills, and
lifestyle changes
Zamira Hyseni Duraku*
Linda Hoxha
Chapter Summary: Measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a
rapid shift to online learning, have aected higher education worldwide. This chapter
presents the ndings of the study which investigated the attitudes of Kosovar students
towards distance/online learning, including the interactions between learning skills,
student life, anxiety and perceived stress. Research design with mixed quantitative and
qualitative methods was used for this study. The study was conducted in two phases.
In the rst phase, standardized scales and open-ended questions were administered
to (N = 78) students from the Department of Psychology, University of Prishtina. In
the second phase a focus group discussion was conducted to analyze the results of the
data extracted in the rst phase. Most students reported moderate levels of perceived
stress and mild psychological and somatic anxiety. Perceived stress has been proven
to have a moderately positive interaction with learning skills, particularly with time
management and procrastination, as well as student life. Psychological anxiety has
turned out to be predicted by perceived stress, while perceived stress by student life.
The students stated that engaging in online learning enabled them to divert attention
from the pandemic, while emotional support from teachers made it easier for them
to cope with this period. However, lack of attention and concentration, decreased
motivation to attend lectures and learning, limited space at home, distraction from family
members and taking on multiple tasks while learning online were the main challenges
faced by students during online learning. Within this chapter, recommendations are
presented for opportunities to increase the quality of higher education and also for
student support related to mental health.
Keywords:, Higher education, COVID-19, Online learning, Perceived stress,
Anxiety, Learning skills
* Corresponding author: Zamira Hyseni Duraku, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Philosophy,
University of Prishtina, Hasan Prishtina. Address: Eqrem Çabej # 21, 10000, Prishtinë, Kosovë, email: zamira.
hyseni@uni-pr.edu, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8268-3962
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Chapter 2 - The impact of COVID-19 on higher education |
Introduction
Measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19 have aected the functioning
of higher education worldwide. As most countries began pursuing physical distancing,
most higher education institutions also had to shift to remote or online learning rapidly
and change the way they function and communicate with their sta and students
(Quacquarelli Symonds, 2020).
Studies conducted during the COVID-19 period have found that students worldwide
have been dramatically aected by the spread of COVID-19, after facing travel
restrictions, physical distancing, isolation, and quarantining, as well as dormitory
and border closure (Quacquarelli Symonds, 2020). It is reported that the created
circumstances have inuenced students regarding their plans and priorities, as well
as the level of their interest to attend lessons in the online format.
In addition, while some students reported that they were interested in online
classes, others, due to the closure of the educational institutions’ impact on their
lifestyles, reported lack of motivation and negative attitudes towards learning online
(Quacquarelli Symonds, 2020). Quarantining at home during COVID-19 and the
closure of educational institutions were reported as major reasons for students feeling
disconnected from society and their social circles (Killan, 2020). In some cases,
students reported negative experiences while returning home during the pandemic,
owing to unpleasant family environments (Killan, 2020).
The organization of online learning in higher education in
Kosovo
Measures taken by the Government of Kosovo to contain the spread of COVID-19,
from March 16, 2020, aected the functioning of university education in the country.
The closure of public and private universities aected the lives and attendance of
approximately 104, 606 active students at these universities. Thus, they shifted to
teaching online in order to continue classes without interruption. The shift of online
classes was carried out for the rst time at the University of Prishtina “Hasan Prishtina,
” which is the biggest public university in Kosovo (ASK, 2018). To facilitate the
learning process, students, teachers, and other sta at the University of Prishtina “Hasan
Prishtina” were given information on how to start learning online and were also oered
technical assistance in coping with the diculties in the process of transitioning to
online teaching (University of Prishtina, 2020a, 2020b). As part of the decision to close
educational institutions, all students living on campus were obligated to leave their
dormitories and return to their permanent residences. Although the implementation
of online learning took place for the rst time within this university, the relocation
was reported to have been successfully managed (University of Prishtina, 2020c).
48
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education and Wellbeing
Zamira Hyseni Duraku
Psychological distress and students’ motivation for online
learning
A study by Arënliu and Bërxulli (2020) measured psychological distress among
students from the University of Prishtina “Hasan Prishtina” in the early days of the
COVID-19 pandemic in Kosovo. The study found that 11.4% of the students reported
severe psychological distress, 13.3% reported moderate psychological distress, 24.7%
reported mild psychological distress, while 50.6% did not report any psychological
distress (Arënliu & Bërxulli, 2020). This study also reported signicant dierences
among students regarding their motivation to attend lessons online and their levels
of psychological distress. Students who reported that they were not at all motivated
to engage in online learning also reported high (moderate to severe) levels of
psychological distress, as opposed to students who reported being highly motivated
to attend classes online.
At the time of writing, no other study had investigated the eects of COVID-19
on the mental health of Kosovar students. The ndings of the abovementioned study
describe the changes observed and the level of motivation among students in the early
days of both measures taken in Kosovo to contain COVID-19 and shifting to online
learning. Therefore, it is assumed that these ndings may change in the subsequent
stages of physical distancing (Arënliu and Bërxulli, 2020), as there may be an increase
in stress levels with the prolongation of social isolation or quarantining (Brooks et al.
2020, in Arënliu and Bërxulli, 2020).
The impact of stress and anxiety on student life and academic
performance
Educational psychologists have consistently increased the interest in identifying
factors pertaining to stress and anxiety among students (Auerbach and Gramling, 1997;
Robotham & Julian, 2006), while also pointing out that stress and anxiety are major
factors that aect university students’ lives and mental health. According to Reddy
and colleagues (2018), stress and anxiety are considered part of student life, due to the
many personal, family and contextual expectations that aect students. Other authors
suggest that, while stress is present among all students because of their workloads,
adolescent students are more vulnerable to academic stress due to the changes that
take place in their lives both personally and socially (Reddy et al., 2018). Other
factors that aect student stress levels include fear of academic failure, relationships
with teachers, class size, education system, performance appraisal, long lectures,
and academic workload (Agolla and Ongori, 2009; Mahajan, 2010; Sreeramareddy
et al., 2007, in Reddy et al., 2018). Other factors that have been identied as having
49
Chapter 2 - The impact of COVID-19 on higher education |
an impact on students’ stress levels also include nancial problems, environmental
changes, and diculties in managing academic and personal life (Jimenez et al., 2010;
Moscaritolo, 2009, in Reddy et al., 2018).
Anxiety and stress have also been observed to interact with specic learning skills,
such as time management, concentration, learning methods, and motivation to study
(Asikainen et al., 2018; Agolla and Ongori, 2009; Congos, 2010). These factors can
aect students’ academic performance (Britton and Tesser, 1991) and can also increase
the level of anxiety and stress in students (Ayesha and Khurshid, 2013; Numan and
Hasan, 2017). Further, it has been conrmed that young people’s mental health,
levels of anxiety and stress, and their academic performance are aected by the lack
of emotional support and communication, factors related to their families, such as
domestic violence, or other diculties they encounter in their family relationships
(Pinto et al. 2014, in Hyseni Duraku, Kelmendi & Jemini, 2018).
The signicance of the study
Based on the assumption that students’ mental health may deteriorate over prolonged
periods of physical distancing and online learning, this study aimed to investigate the
level of perceived anxiety and stress and explore students’ attitudes toward online
learning, including the interactions among learning skills, student life, and attitudes
toward online learning with anxiety levels and perceived stress.
Studies in recent years have found that Kosovar students who had greater social
support and better learning skills had lower levels of anxiety (Hyseni Duraku & Hoxha,
2018). Other studies that focused on the same population group have conrmed the
presence of signicant interactions among the use of technology, concerns and fears
before bedtime, and sleeplessness or insomnia, and higher levels of psychological
distress among adolescents in Kosovo (Hyseni Duraku et al., 2018).
Young people’s mental health, including students, is considered a challenge to
public health and society the world over, including in Kosovo, especially because
of the lack of professional services for this population group (Patel et al., 2007, in
Hyseni Duraku et al., 2018). Education institutions that cover both the emotional and
the academic aspects have been proven to increase students’ productivity, improve
academic performance, and enhance learning. Universities that support students’
wellbeing can also increase students’ feeling of belonging within their education
system. Thus, students feel safer and more fullled in relation to others and also acquire
more appropriate skills of adaptation and coping with stressful situations (Sadock et
al., 2009; Kieling et al., 2011, in Hyseni Duraku et al., 2018).
Students’ needs for enhanced emotional support during the COVID-19 pandemic
have also been reported worldwide. Students have reported that universities can play
50
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education and Wellbeing
Zamira Hyseni Duraku
an important role when they are practicing social isolation by communicating with
them and providing emotional support throughout these dicult times (Quacquarelli
Symonds, 2020). Therefore, the current study’s ndings can serve as a baseline through
which higher education institutions can identify the pandemic-related factors that are
impacting students’ learning and make any necessary adaptations to their education
programs in order better to support students and facilitate their learning.
Moreover, this study’s ndings, in addition to providing scientic evidence on the
interactions among the factors treated, can serve as a starting point for future research,
during and after the period of social isolation, with youth groups and students within
and outside of Kosovo. These ndings aim to promote the importance of addressing
mental health issues and student well-being at the university level and encourage
universities to respond by building collaborations with students, adapting teaching
methodologies to suit the students’ needs, and increasing and motivating learning
within their current and future plans for the period after COVID-19.
Methodology
Research approach: The study used an exploratory mixed method research design
with both quantitative and qualitative methods. It explored the perspectives of the
students through quantitative data and enriched those data with a qualitative analysis.
The study was conducted in two phases. In the rst phase, standardized scales and
open-ended questions were administered. In the second phase, a focus group discussion
was conducted to analyze the results of the data drawn in the rst phase.
Procedures and sample: A total of 78 students from the Department of Psychology
at the University of Prishtina “Hasan Prishtina” participated in this study. They were
selected through convenience sampling. Potential participants were invited via email,
with information on the purpose of the study and the time it would take to complete
the questionnaire. They were also told that their data and information would be treated
as condential, that their participation was voluntary, and that they could withdraw
at any time. The questionnaire was administered through a Google Form that was
sent along with all the information and the invitation to participate. It took 15 to
20 minutes to complete the questionnaire. A virtual (in Google Meet) focus group
discussion was conducted in the second stage of the study. After processing the data,
the ndings were discussed with the students. Their perspectives on the preliminary
ndings and their recommendations for further steps that the university should take
after the COVID-19 period were gathered. A total of 10 students participated in the
focus group discussion. The questions were drawn up based on the results from the
quantitative and qualitative data collected in the rst stage. The focus group discussion
was considered additional and necessary both for data validation and gathering
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Chapter 2 - The impact of COVID-19 on higher education |
recommendations and suggestions for steps to be taken after the COVID-19 period.
Data were collected from April 19 to 25, 2020.
Of the total (n=78), most participants were women (n = 71, 91%) enrolled at the
bachelor’s level (n=72, 92.3%); seven were master’s-level students. The average age
was 19.5 years (SD = 1.45).
Table 2.1 Participant characteristics
n %
Gender
Women 71 91
Men 7 9
Level of education
Bachelor’s Level 72 92.3
Master’s Level 6 7.7
Age m 19.59
SD 1.45
Measurements:
The Hamiltonian Anxiety Assessment Scale (HAMA) was used to measure the
participants’ anxiety levels. This scale comprises 14 questions divided into two
subscales: psychological and somatic. Within the psychological scale, questions
1–6 and 14 address the cognitive and aective symptoms of anxiety (anxious mood,
tension, fear, and diculty concentrating), while under the somatic scale, questions
7–13 assess the presence of cardiovascular, autonomic, respiratory, and gastrointestinal
symptoms (Shear et al. 2001). Each question is rated on a scale of 0 (not present) to
4 (very often). A score <17 indicates mild anxiety, ranging from 18 to 24 indicates
moderate anxiety, from 25 to 30 indicates high anxiety, and from 31 to 56 indicates
very high anxiety (Hamilton 1959). The original version of the questionnaire was
translated from English into Albanian. Cronbach’s alpha (α) for the overall scale, for
the current sample scale was quite high (.91). Reliability for both the “psychological
anxiety” (α=.83) and the “somatic anxiety” (α =.88) subscales was also high.
The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) The PSS was used to measure the level of
perceived stress among the students. This scale comprises 10 questions through which
participants are asked about their feelings and thoughts over the previous month. Each
question measures how often participants felt a certain way or thought specically
about a particular issue, and the responses ranged from 0 = “never” to 4 = “very often.”
52
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education and Wellbeing
Zamira Hyseni Duraku
A score ranging from 0 to 13 denoted low stress, 14 to 26 denoted moderate stress,
and 27 to 40 indicated high stress (Cohen et al. 1983). The sample used in the study
showed very good reliability (α =.78).
Student Life: Student Life is a special scale within the Student Well-Being Process
Questionnaire (WPQ; Williams et al. 2017). This scale comprises three questions to
gather information on the diculties that students faced over the preceding month, with
respect to time constraints, academic dissatisfaction, and obstacles in their academic
development. The responses are provided on a scale of 1 = “not at all part of my life” to
10 = “very common part of my life.” The observed reliability for this scale was α =.61.
Learning Skills: Learning Skills is a special scale within the “Student Skills
Assessment” questionnaire (UHCL 2017). The scale is divided into two sections. In the
rst section, students were asked eight questions on how they handled time management
and delays in the realization of obligations related to their lessons. In the second section,
they were asked eight questions on their concentration and memorization skills. The
responses were provided on a scale ranging from 1 = “never” to 4 = “always.” For
both these sections, a score above 28 shows good time and learning management
skills, while a score between 21 and 28 shows that students used the recommended
eective strategies for time and learning management, and a score below 20 indicates
that students need to improve their learning and time management skills. Reliability
for this scale was (α=.84).
Attitudes toward online learning: Student attitudes toward online learning were
evaluated through four open-ended questions. Their perspectives on the positive and
negative aspects of online learning were noted and compared with the perspectives
that prevailed before the COVID-19 period.
The general questions in the questionnaire gathered demographic data on the
students, including their age, gender, level of studies, and the number of family
members at home. They were also asked if they had prior experience with online
learning, the technology skills to complete their course assignments or obligations
related to university studies, and their own rooms.
Data Processing: The categorical and scale variables were reported with elements
such as presentation frequency, percentages, and standard deviations. Linear regression
analysis was used to understand the relationship between perceived stress, anxiety, and
student life. All statistical analyses for closed-ended questions were conducted through
the Social Science Pack (SPSS), version 26. Answers obtained from the open-ended
questions were analyzed using the content analysis method. The response coding process
was done by in-vivo coding, through which categories and their corresponding codes
were generated. Quotations from the participants were also used in the description
of the qualitative results. The answers to these questions signicantly enriched the
quantitative data. The qualitative data were analyzed through ATLAS.ti software.
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Chapter 2 - The impact of COVID-19 on higher education |
Results
Previous experience with online learning and online learning
conditions
Of the total number of students participating in the study, 91% (n=71) stated
that they had no prior experience engaging with distance/online learning before
the outbreak of COVID-19, 80.8% (n=61) stated that they had a personal room in
their current residence to take their classes, and 94.9% (n=74) of students had the
technological equipment they needed in order to attend their classes online. Most
(77.2%) of the participants reported that their families had 6 or fewer members (3
members 2.5%, 4 members 11.4%, 5 members 34.2%, and 6 members 29.1%), and
the rest of the participants (22.8 %) reported living with 7, 8, or 9 family members
during the COVID-19 period.
Perceived anxiety and stress levels
According to the current results, most students reported having mild psychological
anxiety (74.4%), while 23.1% reported having moderate anxiety, and 2.6% reported
having high psychological anxiety. Whereas, regarding somatic anxiety, a majority
of students reported having mild somatic anxiety (93.6%), and 6.4% reported having
moderate somatic anxiety. With regard to perceived stress, 26.9% of students reported
high levels of perceived stress (n=78), 65.4% moderate (n=78), and 7.7% (n = 78)
low levels of perceived stress.
Table 2.2 shows the correlation analysis coecients between perceived stress
and factors inuencing it. The analysis shows that the learning skills, specically
time management and procrastination, and perceived stress have a medium negative
correlation r=-.352** p<.01. Meanwhile, perceived stress and student life resulted in
a medium positive correlation r=.442** p<.01.
Table 2.3 shows the results of a linear regression analysis conducted to elucidate and
predict the relationship between one variable and another. Through linear regression
analysis, the experience of psychological anxiety was predicted by perceived stress
F (1, 67) = 22.371, p<0.000, R² =.250, which was predicted by student life F(1.76)
=, p<0.000, R² =.272
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Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education and Wellbeing
Zamira Hyseni Duraku
Table 2.2 Correlation analysis showing perceived stress
Learning
Skills (Time
Management and
Procrastination)
Student
Life
Perceived
Stress
Learning Skills
(Time Management
and Procrastination)
Pearson Correlation 1
Sig. (2-tailed)
N 78
Student Life Pearson Correlation -.190 1
Sig. (2-tailed) .096
N 78 78
Perceived Stress Pearson Correlation -.352** .442** 1
Sig. (2-tailed) .002 .000
N 78 78 78
**. Correlation is signicant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
Table 2.3 Regression analysis showing psychological anxiety and perceived stress
Unstandardized Standardized
βSE Beta p
(Constant) .327 .201 .000
Perceived stress .040 .008 .500 .000
Dependent variable: Psychological anxiety
Table 2.4 Regression analysis showing perceived stress and student life
Unstandardized Standardized
βSE Beta p
(Constant) 14.169 1.889 .000
Student life .505 .101 .521 .000
Dependent variable: Perceived stress
The inuence of the number of family members on students’ perceived stress resulted
in signicant dierences X² (4, 4, 1 N=78 = 11, 386 p=.023, and dierences in the
experience of stress based on the number of family members are shown in Table 2.5.
Similar results were found in the context of anxiety experience, specically among
those with respiratory symptoms. There were dierences between individuals based
55
Chapter 2 - The impact of COVID-19 on higher education |
on the number of family members (8, 8, 1, N=78) = 19, 968, p=.010, and these
dierences are presented in Table 2.6 below.
Table 2.5 Frequency of stress experience based on the number of family members
Mild
stress
Moderate
stress
High
stress
Total
1 – 4 family members 5 2 2 9
5 – 7 family members 31 18 7 56
7 – 9 family members 2 0 4 6
Total 38 20 13 71
Table 2.6 Frequency of anxiety experience based on the number of family members
Mild
anxiety
Moderate
anxiety
High
anxiety
Very high
anxiety
Total
1 – 4 family members 9 0 2 0 11
5 – 7 family members 44 8 4 5 61
7 – 9 family members 4 1 1 0 6
Total 58 9 7 5 78
Students’ perspectives on online learning during the COVID-19
period
The results in this section are presented based on the ndings drawn from the
open-ended questions as augmented by the qualitative data collected through the focus
group discussion. In addition to the narrative and tabular descriptions, the ndings
are accompanied by students’ statements (quotes). The ndings listed below have
been derived from the content analysis and are ranked according to the frequency of
information identied among the participants’ responses in this study.
Positive aspects of online learning during the COVID-19 period: The ndings show
that students consider online classes to present an opportunity to save time and money
while devoting more time to their studies. Students noted that online learning was
eective and inuential in increasing their level of motivation for lessons and treated
it as a good opportunity to help become more organized. They stated that participating
in online learning gave them the opportunity to participate actively in discussions.
The students also mentioned that online learning drew their attention away from
the pandemic, and the emotional support they received from their professors made
56
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education and Wellbeing
Zamira Hyseni Duraku
it easier for them to get through this period. During the online classes and learning,
students’ level of contact and cooperation with teachers and professors increased.
Students also reported that the online learning format had enhanced their capacity
for self-organization and that the utilized platform (Google Classrooms) presented a
better-organized form of assignment submission (see Table 2.7).
Table 2.7 Positive aspects of online learning throughout the COVID-19 period
Codes Subcodes
Positive aspects
of online learning
through the
COVID-19 period
No time wasted on travel
More time for lessons
Fewer nancial expenses
More eective learning
Increased motivation
A good opportunity to be more organized
More active participation in discussions among students
A good opportunity to draw attention away from the pandemic
Emotional support from teachers and comfort
More frequent contact or cooperation with professors
A better means of organizing subjects
Faster and more productive information transfer through Google
Classrooms
A better-organized form of assignment submission (via Google
Classrooms)
“…saving time, since most of the time we are now at home, therefore we have more time at our disposal to devote
to lectures and online learning.” (Student, 19 years old, #2)
“…this motivates me to work harder when I see that I am completing the tasks in a much shorter time than
before.” (Student, 20 years old, #7)
“…it seems to me that online learning is enabling more students to get involved in discussions.” (Student24
years old, #39)
Negative aspects of online learning during the COVID-19 period: In regards to the
negative aspects of online learning during COVID-19, students participating in the
study stated that they found it signicantly dicult to pay attention while learning
online. This is related to the change in the format of lectures and the implementation
of teaching commitments online, and to their psychological state as inuenced by
prevailing circumstances, their isolation at home, and the changes in their lifestyle.
Moreover, students listed the following among the factors inuencing their negative
perception of online learning: distraction by family members, decreased level of
motivation to engage in online learning (in comparison with the rst weeks of online
classes), overload with assignments and weariness, increased use of technology, the
57
Chapter 2 - The impact of COVID-19 on higher education |
family environment is not suitable for learning, doubts and concerns about their results
in the nal assessment, the inability to leave the house (marked as an environment
that is not pleasant to be), lack of organization, time management, productivity, and
procrastination in the learning process (see Table 2.8).
Table 2.8 Negative aspects of online learning throughout the COVID-19 period
Codes Subcodes
Negative
aspects of online
learning through
the COVID-19
period
There is a signicant lack of attention in online classes when compared
to classes at the faculty.
The lack of attention is a result of the students’ psychological states
and prevailing circumstances.
The level of work eciency is not at the same as it is when they
engage in groups.
Contributing factors
Small living space
Distraction by family members
Decreased level of motivation to engage in online learning
Overload with assignments and weariness
Increased use of technology
The family environment is not suitable for learning
Doubts and concerns about their results in the nal assessment
The faculty enables students to leave the house (an environment that is
not pleasant to be in)
Lack of organization, time management, and productivity
Procrastination in the learning process
“…even though I have my room, there may be family members moving in and out. I live in a small apartment.
If my little brother opens the door to my room when I am in the middle of sharing my opinion during a lecture,
I get distracted” (Student, 20 years old, #7)
“The lesson takes place in the middle of a family environment, so the attention paid to lectures or assignments
is lower.” (Student, 19 years old #15)
“…it happens to me. I lose my concentration. This has not happened to me at the faculty, and it makes me feel
guilty.” (Student20 years old, #31)
“…attending lectures at college makes me leave home and learn (because I nd it hard to stay at home as I feel
bad). This is devastating for me because I cannot concentrate at all on the lectures, I feel confused.” (Student,
19 years old, #42)
“I do not feel well psychologically with respect to my studies or reading. I have no motivation to do my homework,
either. Lectures seem very good to me because I have good professors, but I just do not feel like I am able to
focus fully” (Student, 18 years old, # 64)
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Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education and Wellbeing
Zamira Hyseni Duraku
Positive aspects of online learning after the COVID-19 period: According to the
students who participated in the second phase of this study (focus group discussion),
online learning helped them adapt to the use of technology in dierent learning
processes. They saw this period as a good opportunity to integrate technology at a
higher level with their learning process and to use it to nd ways to communicate with
other students and teachers on their assignments in the future (Table 2.9).
Table 2.9 Positive aspects of online learning after COVID-19
Codes Subcodes
Positive aspects of
online learning in the
post-recovery period
A good opportunity to adapt to the use of technology in the
learning process
A good opportunity for technological integration at a higher level
for both classes and student-teacher communication in the future
The overall quantitative and qualitative ndings conrm that the changes in
living arrangement (the home environment, the number of family members, and the
distraction by the family members) owing to the COVID-19 outbreak have aected
their perception of online classes, their possibilities for learning, and their level of
attention and concentrating on education engagements. Moreover, impaired attention,
lack of concentration and motivation, and challenges encountered in studying online
have all been aected by changes in student life and have all triggered both anxiety
symptoms and perceived reported stress.
Conclusions
The ndings of this study conrm the impact of the closure of the university
and physical distancing during the COVID-19 period on the mental health, learning
processes, and lives of students, as well as their attitudes toward studying online at
the time the study was conducted.
The current study’s ndings show that from the period of initiation of preventive
measures against COVID-19 (March 16, 2020) to the period of realization of this
study (April 19 to 25, 2020), students have undergone changes in mental health. A
majority of participants reported moderate levels of stress (65.4%), while more than
one-quarter other participants reported high levels of stress (26.9%). The high levels
of perceived stress reported in this study are in accordance with the suggestions that
there may be an increase in stress levels in the later stages of physical distancing and
quarantine (Brooks et al. 2020, in Arënliu and Bërxulli, 2020).
Although low levels of somatic anxiety have been reported among students in
59
Chapter 2 - The impact of COVID-19 on higher education |
this study, ndings also conrm that psychological distress is predicted by perceived
stress, which is more likely to interact with learning skills, time management, and
student procrastination. These ndings and interactions are consistent with previous
studies that have noted that anxiety and stress interact with students’ learning and time
management skills (Asikainen et al., 2018; Agolla & Ongori, 2008; Congos, 2010).
These factors also aect the academic performance of students (Britton & Tesser,
1991) and increase the level of anxiety and stress among them (Ayesha and Khurshid,
2013; Numan & Hasan, 2017).
The current study participants have positive attitudes toward online learning, as
they see it as a good opportunity to draw their attention away from the pandemic and
to treat the emotional support from their teachers as an advantage in overcoming this
period with ease. This study’s ndings conrm the importance of receiving emotional
support from the university and teachers (Quacquarelli Symonds 2020), and increased
communication among students and their professors can avert higher levels of anxiety
and stress in students as well as positively impact students’ academic performance
(Agolla & Ongori 2009; Mahajan 2010; Pinto et al., 2014, in Hyseni Duraku et al.,
2018).
This study also conrms that changes due to circumstances caused by preventive
measures against COVID-19, change in the student residence, return to the families,
limited space of current settlements, a large number of family members, interruptions
from the family members, in interaction with student workload, have aected the
level of students stress, including the level of the possibility to remain attentive and
focused on the lessons. These groups of results also conrm the previous study results,
suggesting that stress in students correlates with academic stress, personal and social
changes that occur in the life of the students, including environmental change, and
time management diculties (Agolla and Ongori, 2009; Mahajan, 2010; Chernomas
& Shapiro, 2013; Go, 2011; Reddy et al., 2018).
The ndings also suggest that numerous changes in student life pertaining to residence
and learning formats, including the duration of physical distancing, as well as changes
in students’ mental health despite aecting their degree of attention and focus on their
studies, may also lead to a decline in motivation to attend lessons online for certain
students. These ndings conrm that family-related factors and the poor experience
of returning home owing to unpleasant family environments, including the eects of
physical distancing, can aect students’ functioning, academic performance, and well-
being (Pinto et al., 2014, in Hyseni Duraku et al., 2018; Killan, 2020). The ndings
are also consistent with other studies conducted during the COVID-19 period, which
found that students who reported a lack of motivation to engage in online learning
also reported higher levels of psychological distress when compared to students who
reported higher motivation to engage in online learning (Arënliu & Bërxulli, 2020).
60
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education and Wellbeing
Zamira Hyseni Duraku
Practical Implications
The ndings of this study are limited, as they represent one small group of students
enrolled in a higher education institution in one country. Moreover, the current results
reect the impact of COVID-19 circumstances; nevertheless, taking into consideration
the continuation of the lockdown, further changes might be noticed during its later
stages. However, these results may be seen as a starting point for future studies,
examining personal and academic factors and the impacts on the mental health and
academic performance of students. The ndings of this study can also serve as a shred
of basic evidence for the eects of COVID-19 on students’ lives and education. This
contributes toward advancing knowledge on each party involved in the pursuit of
higher education. Furthermore, the ndings from this study conrm the importance
of providing emotional support to students and also list factors that may aect their
performance and interest at dierent stages of higher education. Therefore, these
ndings and the listed factors can serve as evidence that may be considered while
working with and supporting students.
Universities aected by COVID-19 must engage beyond setting simple alternatives
to crisis intervention and must invest in creating long-term strategies that transcend
traditional approaches in an innovative and proactive manner, while being willing
to adapt to change as come. Therefore, in the post-COVID-19 period, universities
need to create facilities that can successfully respond to the needs of students during
a crisis. Universities creating crisis management plans is necessary and important
in keeping students safe, both during and after the crisis (Quacquarelli Symonds,
2020). After COVID-19, it is necessary for higher education institutions to focus on
improving online learning, integrating technology into the learning environment and
contributing to the continuous development of academic sta, with the main goal of
increasing the quality of learning (Lapovsky, 2020), through innovative approaches,
which aim to motivate and promote learning.,
A number of students aected by COVID-19 from dierent countries the world
over have indicated that the level of success of educational programs during a crisis
depends on the nature of the interventions oered, the quality of the online programs,
the practical measures made available, as well as exibility in assessment and timing,
aside from clear and eective communication between the university and administrative
leaders (Quacquarelli Symonds, 2020). Creating plans for crisis management by
universities is necessary and important to keep students safe both during and after a
crisis, and to have the opportunity to intervene more eectively to manage the crisis
itself (Quacquarelli Symonds, 2020).
Student overload and circumstances caused by COVID-19 can best be managed
by oering exibility both in terms of opportunities to engage with the teaching
61
Chapter 2 - The impact of COVID-19 on higher education |
process and to study, as well as in assessments. Universities should also enable equal
access for all by designing appropriate courses and materials based on the students’
needs. While developing strategies, universities should aim for the advancement of
equal opportunities for all students and to create programs that are aordable and
sustainable (Mintz, 2020).
The Department of Psychology, at the University of Prishtina has begun to run
support group programs for students. Universities and other departments are advised
to set up support programs to enhance their cooperation with students, adapt teaching
to suit their needs, and to support them in overcoming challenges after returning to
university. Providing emotional and mental health support is one of the most important
factors in protecting students both during and after a crisis. Students should be made
aware of how to take care of their own mental health, and appropriate services
should be made available for them to do so. While oering support programs, it is
important to take into account the fact that students are faced with various social,
emotional, physical, and family problems that may aect their ability to learn and
their academic performance; therefore, it is important to provide support to students in
ways that may address these stressors appropriately and help them master appropriate
coping techniques to deal with stressful situations and academic engagements better
(Sreeramareddy et al., 2007).
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