This is Sick: Online Learning During Coronavirus

An exhibit by V. Gwyn Hartung and Mikel Baxter.

We are first semester students in the Public History MA program at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas. The fully online nature of our program has inspired us to devote our exhibit to the challenges that students face while learning online. 

This exhibit showcases some of the struggles students, professors and coaches have had to contend with while learning mostly online during a pandemic.  Anxieties such as technological issues, fears of becoming sick, a lack of income due to the pandemic and mental health issues due to isolation are the most mentioned problems. 

With the advent of social media, students have taken to documenting their educational troubles through memes, photographs, and text posts. We also have presented some oral histories to provide a comprehensive look into the life of a pandemic student, that we find give context and balance to some of the news articles showcased here as well. 

What we discovered upon examining and grouping these different items is that the stresses of being a student during a pandemic is a unifying theme that brings people together in ways that transcend the limitations of how COVID-19 is keeping us all (six feet) apart. 

Fuzzy Felines named VIP's of Pandemic

We both wanted to showcase our cats in this exhibit as a tribute to pets everywhere who have provided comfort and stress relief to their owners. Pets have no doubt been a huge comfort to not only students, but others as well, and even though that's just what our animal friends do, they deserve a section of their own to showcase how special they are. 

Pets, the Unsung Heroes: Grad School in Quarantine

Cornelia loves cuddles and they help relieve stress.

Pets, the Unsung Heroes: Grad School in Quarantine

Alvin represents all the cats that help their owners get through the pandemic.

What Keeps Me Sane

Wobbles likes to sit like a person, and her sassy personality is a perfect distraction from the day to day crazy of this year.

What Keeps Me Sane

Jade loves snuggles and naps, and her soft fur is perfect for soothing any pandemic related anxieties.


Memes have become a universal form of social relation on the internet.  Students of all ages have been making meme after meme, humorizing the woes and trials of Zoom classes, the COVID19 stimulus checks, getting used to mask wearing, and the struggles of learning online during a global pandemic. These memes provide humor during a time of so much fear. 

Memes for COVID-19 that Spark Joy

These memes spark joy in the hearts of those who view them. They bring people together all across the world by laughing at our shared misery.

COVID Stimulus Check: Grad School in Quarantine

This meme about the one-time COVID19 stimulus check sums up the feelings of many university students. 

Zoom: Grad School in Quarantine

This meme about universities and Zoom Meetings is something many online learners can relate to.

Meme - Transition to Online Learning

This meme shows how many are struggling with making the switch to online learning.

online learning is hard

Memes like this one represent the way online learning makes young people feel older because they have trouble understanding the technology.

Oral Histories

We conducted several interviews with students continuing their education during the pandemic. These accounts provide varied perspectives of how different people are handling the stress of COVID19 and school. The plight of those continuing their education is evident when you hear it in their own voices. Also presented are various interviews conducted by others, to give a wider diversity of who is suffering through the problems presented by pandemic learning, and how they are handling them. Professors, students, coaches, teachers everyone is suffering in similar ways due to the Coronavirus.

Issues range from simple time management and getting used to a new schedule to taking care of their mental and physical health to working on a different time zone and fighting Zoom fatigue. Students seemed anxious and distressed by the year, but there are minor notes here and there that show the resilience of human nature to maintain a spark of hope, no matter how small.


Interviewing Abroad: Grad School in Quarantine

This interview with an undergraduate and graduate student details the struggles of online learning while being abroad in England.

Interview with an Undergrad: Grad School in Quarantine

This interview with undergraduate student Camryn Blackmon details the mental health struggles she and many others are having to deal with during this crisis.

Mental Health and Online School: An Interview with Graduate Student Gwyn Hartung

This interview conducted by Camryn Blackmon provides Gwyn Hartung's outlook on mental health and learning online during a pandemic.

Oral History with an Anonymous Teacher

This anonymous interview with a teacher provides insight into online learning is like for teachers during the COVID19 pandemic.

Oral History of a Teacher, Wife, and Mother - Helen Farrar

This oral history provides insight into the world of a teacher, Helen Farrar, and what life has been like for her during the crisis.

Interview with a Student Athlete: Getting an education during quarantine.

This interview provides the perspective of the triple threat of working, being an athlete and also a student. 

An Oral interview with St. Mary's University History Professor Dr. Gerald Poyo

This oral history with Dr. Gerald Poyo shows the struggles of juggling being a professor and having to switch to online learning.

Head Sports Performance Coach from StMU Oral History

Oral histories like this one provide the unique experience of being a head coach at a private university during a pandemic.


Personal photographs give the audience an inside look into what people's lives have been like during the COVID19 pandemic. They show what students find comfort in, be it a mask given by a university, or a reassuring e-mail or a partner to rely on when things are tough. 

It also presents how normal life has been thoroughly altered, and how universities have rallied to try and find ways of adjusting to the "new normal", and what opportunities have been made available because of the pandemic. 

Feeling Bad about Feeling Proud: Grad School in Quarantine

This year has been bad and sometimes it's hard to feel good about the things you did accomplish. Displaying your achievements, even if it's just for yourself, can help increase confidence. 

Fall Semester Starts on a Positive Note: Grad School in Quarantine

These screenshots of emails sent by the St. Mary's University's president show that the university attempted to keep their students safe from COVID19.

Masking Up: Grad School in Quarantine

This picture shows the high quality face mask St. Mary's University sent to students in preparation for the Fall 2020 school year.

A Pass for the Lockdown

This travel pass given out during the first lockdown in Texas shows the importance of, and the dangers of, working at a grocery store during the pandemic.

What Keeps Me Sane

Loved ones keep us sane when all seems lost. 

Social Events in a Pandemic Year

Universities are still attempting to have social events during a global pandemic.

Out of Lockdown and Sadness, Joy and Hope Spring Eternal

A four e-mail screen shot series, showing both disappointment and excitement, and unexpected positivity derived from mandatory online based education. 

Articles and Journal Entries

Articles and journal entries provide in depth information about online learning during COVID19News articles provide a foundation of proof for the fatigue that students and others who work and learn from home are experiencing. They also give a national context that acts as a reminder that we are not in fact alone in our stress and anxiety. Journal entries also provide a humanizing aspect that gives an intimate look into the mindset of a student experiencing a COVID-19 semester.

Journal Entry: Grad School in Quarantine

This journal entry describes thoughts and feelings about online learning during the COVID19 pandemic.

Equity: Grad School in Quarantine

This article describes ways that universities can help promote equity while online learning during the COVID19 pandemic.

What is Zoom Fatigue and what it means for students

A brief article describing zoom fatigue, with some simple tips to help manage it. 

Journal Entry: Thoughts on the first semester of grad school.

A brief journal style entry on the thoughts of a student going through her first semester of graduate school during a pandemic. 

A slightly light hearted take on how professors are making Zoom classes better for students.

A light hearted perspective from both professors and students on how to make a zoom class slightly less intimidating, and what ways zoom and recorded lectures have made the semester better. 

St. Mary's Mask Squad

This article about "The Mask Squad" at St. Mary's University shows how the group promotes social distancing and mask wearing while on campus.


Through the process of creating this exhibit we have discovered that most students and teachers, at the undergraduate level or not, struggle with online learning during the COVID19 pandemic. The key problems most people deal with are: tech fatigue, mental health issues stemming from isolation and worry, a lack of access to technology, and inflexible teachers and universities. It also shows us that everyone is facing the same problems and we are more alike than we are different. In a way, COVID19 has brought people together better than ever before. 

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