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“My Uni Experience Wasn’t Completely Ruined”: The Impacts of COVID-19 on the First-Year Experience


The first year at university is always challenging, but particularly in 2020 when COVID-19 triggered lockdowns and a rapid shift to online learning. This mixed methods study tracked the wellbeing and engagement of 60 new students in an undergraduate teacher education program at an Australian university throughout the first trimester of 2020. Follow-up focus groups with 14 students used interview and photo elicitation to explore how COVID-19 influenced wellbeing and engagement. Quantitative results demonstrate both student wellbeing and student engagement dipped strongly at the start of lockdown but recovered towards the end of the trimester. Focus group findings illustrate the diversity of experience in terms of student access to time and space to study, their ability to sustain relationships online, and the cumulative stress of COVID-19. The findings lead to recommendations for supporting this cohort and for future research.

Published: 2021-11-02
Pages:1 to 13
How to Cite
McKay, L., O’Bryan, S., & Kahu, E. R. (2021). “My Uni Experience Wasn’t Completely Ruined”: The Impacts of COVID-19 on the First-Year Experience. Student Success, 12(3), 1-13.

Author Biographies

Griffith University
Australia Australia

Dr Loraine McKay is a senior lecturer in the school of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University. She is first year coordinator in the Bachelor of Education program. Her research interests include using arts-based reflection processes to foster identity development that incorporates resilience, well-being and agency in preservice teachers.

Victoria University
Australia Australia

Dr. Steven O’Bryan is a research fellow in the Institute for Health and Sport and lecturer in the First Year College at Victoria University. He teaches a suite of physiology units offered in sport and clinical exercise science related degrees. His educational research focusses on the role of social constructivism in facilitating positive learning outcomes, wellbeing and engagement.

Massey University
New Zealand New Zealand

Dr Ella R Kahu a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand. Her research is in social psychology, in particular researching and theorising on student engagement in higher education. She is passionate about teaching first year students and currently teaches a first-year distance course on identity and citizenship. 

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2205-0795