After a year of online learning, it’s time to rewire your brain

Last year, student’s could no longer see their classroom, classmates, extended family or even leave their homes for the mall or movies. Their desk was replaced with  a lonely kitchen table, computer screen and the occasional nagging parent. We longed for social interaction, eye to eye contact with a teacher when confused, or even a friend to share in the new world we were facing – there was nothing for many of us, so what was the impact? 

During this quarantine, many became attached, to an unhealthy extent, to their phones and laptops – replacing more meaningful encounters. By design, some teachers had little choice but to turn students away to hours of homework, with little meaningful instruction. In their defense, it was hard, students were quiet, and the daydreaming or sidebar use of phones during instruction was undetected, and so went unchallenged. The electronic breakout rooms were awkwardly silent most of the time, and by the time students loosened up enough to talk about the work, students were drawn back to the main session – we were changing, but how?

According to neurologist and educator, Judy Willis, based on the science of neuroplasticity, when people constantly practice or repeat an activity, or recall a memory, their brain’s network groups neurons that collaborate with one another creating electrical pathways, forgetting the old ones. In other words, we are exchanging the skills required for valuable in person learning, for what many of us found to be a highly distracting electronic activity. So, you get a brain used to sleeping late, not worrying about how you look, daydreaming or texting during class, and playing catch up to actually try and get the homework done! Thus all the uproar from parents on getting these kids back in school – they could see what was occurring. 

As we do get these kids back to school, the brain now has to rewire itself to getting up early, getting pretty, socializing, adopting a more rigorous schedule, and taking up an actual desk in front of a real teacher. All of this in the presence of acquaintances, which  under different circumstances, could have been good friends! If you feel yourself a bit disoriented, it is for good reason, your brain is quickly working to get you back to normal life as we once “knew” it!

Something truly remarkable is happening to you and me right now! Our brains have started the rewiring process once again, and everyday life becomes easier, for some quickly, for others a little longer. There will be no more free one-hundreds, photos of friends work to copy and paraphrase, and thankfully, no more breakout rooms, all will be replaced by oh so much more! Students at Lafayette college had this to say about home learning and teamwork,  “while breakout rooms provide a chance to emulate the kind of group work that fosters social and cognitive presence, sometimes they can produce the opposite effect: muted faces on the screen doing work individually and not really “connecting” with each other.”