Quaran-teens Class of 2021: COVID-19’s Impact on Our Everyday Use of Technology

Quaran-teens Class of 2021: COVID-19’s Impact on Our Everyday Use of Technology

[The following students are high school seniors Class of 2021 at “KTH School.” As part of their International Baccalaureate Social and Cultural Anthropology class, they conducted a collaborative visual auto-ethnography of their experience of hybrid schooling from August to December 2020. Each group focused on a particular conceptual theme to analyze in the blog.]

By Elizabeth Surbrook, Logan Honshell, and Elle Nienhuis

In this time of COVID-19, we mainly rely on technology to communicate with one another. Technology can be defined as the devices and equipment used for practical purposes in our daily lives.  In terms of schooling, we have had to communicate with some of my classmates through my laptop (hybrid learning). Hybrid learning means that we have the choice to be either in person or attend class virtually. Two of us are virtual students, which entails that we are expected to join the zoom for class every single day to participate in class, but often feel as though we are not really a part of the class since we are not physically in the classroom. Additionally, as virtual students, it can be difficult to participate in class because we don’t want to feel as though we are interrupting the flow of class. Sometimes, our internet connection can be very weak and can prevent us from joining the zoom meetings and getting the materials we need for class. Our microphones as well as video can also cut out, preventing us to speak our voice in class as well as the teacher’s video cutting out so we might miss information. One of us is an in-person, in which we feel more included in the class as possibly compared to virtual students due to us being physically in class. Only being able to talk to some of our classmates through our computer screens can cause a feeling of disconnect between us, virtual and in-person students. Having to adapt to this new normal with the aid of technology has affected how we communicate, our daily routines or rituals, and the boundaries that were previously in place.

Communication Technology and Virtual Learning

Figure 1: Photo by the author of their at virtual school at home.

As an online student, communication has been one of the biggest changes for me during the covid-19 situation. Technology has made it possible to be online and yet feel like you are in person. Whereas before I could go to teachers or meet with my peers in person, I now communicate 100% virtually. Language is a human universal, essential to human survival and culture, which allows cultural knowledge to be passed from one generation to the next, so having it be limited has definitely altered the way I operate. I find myself using different applications such as the Teams chat feature, email, GroupMe, Zoom and more just to stay in touch with those around me. People try to classify change as either productive or counterproductive, however, there are places where it can be both simultaneously. Although technology has been a great resource, that is not to say that the transition has been an easy one. In my experience, it is hard to communicate with the teachers during class because unmuting myself on the Zoom video feels like an interruption to the students in person. Although we are there virtually, there is an unavoidable disconnect between the virtual students and the rest of the class. In addition to in class communication, communication with my peers outside of class has also been impacted by the coronavirus. One friend and I have began to FaceTime daily after school in order to keep in touch. During these video calls, we discuss things such as funny moments from class, new hobbies we have picked up to pass the time during the pandemic, and books we are reading. It is moments like these that make virtual learning feel not as isolating. For me, the decrease in communication has been one of the downsides of being completely virtual, so although technology has made the change possible and fairly easy, socially, it has been much more difficult.

Boundaries of Hybrid Learning

Figure 2: Photo of Author physically in class talking to virtual classmates over Zoom.

I’m an in-person student so when there is an assignment I have to work on with people who are online, there are, of course, going to be some boundaries that form. Especially with a global pandemic going on, technology has both made boundaries as well as destroyed some boundaries. Thanks to technology, I am able to talk to my peers about work without having to go anywhere. In contrast, a boundary has been made between the people online quarantining and the people who are not since we don’t see each other in person until they return to campus. Even though technology has made it easier to talk to peers during this pandemic, the movement of boundaries is not as easy. All assignments are mainly done on a computer, and there are some difficulties with that. In math class, taking notes on a computer is difficult because I’m trying to make sure I get all the information down, but I have to make text boxes and input special symbols that slows my typing ability. When I’m in classes in person, we stay 6-feet apart in order to maintain social distancing. With the case of hybrid learning, there is already social distancing between the online and in-person students since the virtual students are at home joining the class on Zoom. In the cases of both virtual and in-person students, there are, of course, different boundaries in place: both physical and imaginary. The concept of virtual classes in itself is a physical boundary between the students and teachers. I personally don’t like the idea of having to do school at home because I am in an environment that will get me distracted and unable to focus. This illustrates the universal that boundaries are actively maintained, especially in times of crisis, which are more actively maintained.

Quarantine and Changing Rituals

Throughout covid-19 my daily rituals have changed majorly. Rituals are a series of actions or type of behavior regularly followed. Rituals can be found in all cultures. Before covid, every day I would wake up at 6:00 to get ready for school, get in my truck, and stop and get breakfast on the way to school, however, now that I am at home, I don’t do this anymore. Now a normal day for me is to wake up around 8. I still get ready and eat breakfast, but I don’t leave to go anywhere. Then I just get on my phone and get on snapchat and Instagram and look at the new posts that were posted while I was asleep until 9 when my first class starts. In between this time my mom will usually come tell me bye before she goes and starts her day. Previously, I would have been the one saying goodbye to her when she was getting ready. After she tells me bye, I go to my desk and open my laptop to start my classes for most of the day. I do work at my desk which is unlike when I went to school because I used to talk to my friends in class and with zoom, that can’t be done unless you want to disrupt the whole class. Another ritual that was changed was hanging out with my friends after school and going to sports games. After Covid, I still do hangout with my friends but only on the weekend and at places like Shelby farms where can be outside and socially distanced. We only go between like 12-4 now because the sun has started setting early, and the park closes at sunset.

Figure 3: Photo by Author of their virtual school at home during this pandemic.

Conclusion

This auto ethnography shows the new life of students during this quarantined school year and how technology has had a huge impact on both the virtual and in person learners. Auto ethnography is a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection and writing. According to Brent Luvaas in his ethnography of street style blogging titled Street Style, “In auto-ethnography self-reflexivity is a mechanism for creating a more honest, situated, and grounded form of social scientific research” (Luvaas, 12). Auto-ethnography is a useful method of study because it challenges one to be reflective. We hope that our auto-ethnography properly represented and reflected on the current state of our lives as we face this global pandemic. Luvaas also writes, “Auto-ethnography does not just use the self to do research; it is explicitly about the ‘self’ as the medium through which research transpired” (Luvaas, 12). Auto-ethnography is unique in that the self is both the research method and the topic of research. Who better than ourselves to talk about what is going on in our lives? Through discussing our own experiences of high school during a pandemic, we allow outsiders to gain insight from our point of view.

Bibliography

Luvaas, B. (2016). Street Style: an Ethnography of Fashion Blogging. Bloomsbury Publishing.

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