Post-secondary students’ initiatives through social media networks during the COVID‑19 pandemic: Do they help?
Our objective is to leverage the expertise and knowledge of the Association québécoise pour l’équité et l’inclusion au postsecondaire (AQEIPS) and that of Legault’s research team: to learn post-secondary students’ reasons for joining – or not joining – student-led social media network groups (SMNGs); to examine which SMNGs helped and which did not; to understand why
students found some to be helpful and others not; and to explore the digital divide and
accessibility related barriers students encountered in accessing such SMNGs.
The Universal Design in Higher Education (UDHE) paradigm allows for a wide range of possible applications in higher education, not only in teaching and learning, but also in other areas, such as access to social networks and SMNGs. The UDHE strategy prioritizes equitable access, usability, and inclusion.
The digital divide is a chasm between the connected and the unconnected, to which geographical location contributes, along with the inequitable access to broadband internet, computers, and mobile devices.
Therefore, in keeping with these theoretical formulations, we will ask post-secondary students about the barriers to student-led SMNGs they have encountered within the context of the digital divide and UDHE paradigm. This will be done through an accessible LimeSurvey administered to 50 Anglophone and 50 Francophone students.
Son et al.’s recent study (2020) of students at an American university, found that the COVID‑19 pandemic was associated with an increase in anxiety and stress for 71% of students. They also found that physical distancing decreases social interactions, which in turn seemed to be a stressor for 86% of the participants. Similarly, Statistic Canada, from a crowdsourcing survey (2020), found that participants reported that their health, both mental and general, were substantially worse during the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Research shows that social media use can foster social connection, which promotes mental health, and that young adults between 18 and 34 years-of-age who reported being lonely during the pandemic increased their use of social media. Given the ubiquitous use of student-led SMNGs during the COVID‑19 pandemic, students tell us that it has become a tool used by post-secondary students to find solidarity in addressing their academic and mental health concerns.
There is minimal literature exploring student-led SMNG initiatives to address student concerns, including mental health challenges, during the COVID‑19 pandemic. Given the decline in mental health of post-secondary students, especially those with mental health challenges, there is an urgent need to recognize SMNGs and their effect on students’ mental health. To ensure sustainability, it is our goal to explore the nature of helpful student-led SMNGs, which can be maintained and encouraged post-COVID-19. Our work will contribute to a virtually non-existent literature about a topic that may be vital in the future to the well-being of post-secondary students and post-secondary institutions themselves (e.g., student services, programs or departments) in identifying strategies and means to support the students’ mental health.