The face mask could be affecting the classroom experience

Over the last three academic school years, there has been a strict mask mandate at Western Carolina University. And this may have impacted our ability to communicate and build connections. 

According to Shelby Broberg, an Instructor of Human Communication at WCU, nonverbal communication makes up approximately 70% of how we communicate. 

With a mask, this form of communication gets impeded. 

“The face is where emotions are expressed. When the mask covers two-thirds of it, that’s where you find a problem,” said Broberg. 

Teacher-learner connections are vital components in meaningful education. When there is reduced emotionality in the classroom, the learning experience might be hindered.

“There does seem to be a relationship barrier because of the masks,” said Ellen Sigler, Professor of Educational Psychology at WCU. “As a psychological scientist, I can’t definitively say learning has been impacted yet, but I can definitively say the experience of learning has been.”

The National Institute of Mental Health states that the pandemic has worsened mental health. And this is problematic when a positive educational experience is connected to the student’s well-being. According to Harvard Health Publishing from the Harvard Medical School, prescriptions for antidepressants have gone up, intimate partner violence has increased, and suicidal thoughts have risen, especially in young adults, such as college students. 

Experimental Professor of Psychology, David Scales, expressed his concerns regarding the shift in the mood over the last couple of years. 

“Students became more reserved than normal. There is more anxiety; it’s being driven by fear, which manifests in the classroom. The masks heighten these more negative feelings, making it much more difficult for students and teachers, simply because people are harder to read,” said Scales. 

Students and teachers were forced to adapt to these challenges. However, students and teachers have adjusted to these misfortunes and changes by showing resilience. 

“Even though it’s necessary, it was hard to try and have meaningful discussions when there was no ability to read facial expressions well. Now it feels like we’ve certainly adjusted to it. It was a hurdle we had to jump,” expressed senior Blake Kinsey. “Communication was hard at first, but I think we’ve learned to deal with this setback.”