Health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic required many face-to-face United States schools to suddenly shut their doors, moving classes to virtual learning environments. Amidst concerns of technology overuse, adolescents across the country saw dramatic increases in both personal screen time use and social isolation as they learned to navigate online schooling. Understanding the impact of the pandemic-related shutdowns upon adolescent well-being, learning, and social life is critical for designing effective online learning experiences, but research provides few insights from the adolescent perspective. This mixed methods study works to fill this gap by investigating adolescent needs and perceptions during the pandemic. The main questions asked are:
To what extent does adolescent well-being during the pandemic differ from pre-pandemic well-being?
What factors do adolescents view as influences upon their learning during the imposed shift to online schooling?
What social changes and concerns do adolescents report during the pandemic?
Twenty-one adolescents completed Likert scale surveys and participated in semi-structured one-to-one interviews. Results showed a significant decrease in positive affect and a significant increase in negative affect during the pandemic, suggesting a decline in well-being. The majority of participants reported high distractibility and noted the lure of entertaining technology, but also described their smartphones as “connecting” and “necessary”. Social interactions were a priority for all participants, but participants agreed that opportunities for social connectedness in online education were limited. The challenges of online learning, the importance of identifying and responding to student needs, and suggested strategies for online education are discussed.